The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bring home U.S. troops

Bring home U.S. troops

The Olympian

Hearts are heavy this Fourth of July as the United States continues to wage an unwinnable war in Iraq.

Public support for President Bush and his war has steadily declined as the number of war dead continues to climb.

On a day when Americans are supposed to celebrate the freedom and liberty won by the blood of our forefathers, most Americans instead find themselves disgusted with the trillion dollar war being waged in their name with their tax dollars.

On a day when Americans are supposed to wave the flag with honor and respect, many Americans are disheartened and embarrassed. They are fed up with an arrogant president and an ineffective Congress and their inability to extract this nation from the ill-conceived war that has alienated U.S. allies and unnecessarily sullied the reputation of this great nation.

This year, our day of national pride feels more like a day of national shame.

Fed up

Americans have had it with the war. According to a CNN poll a week before today’s holiday, only 30 percent of Americans support the war effort — a new low in public opinion. President Bush’s popularity — the percentage of Americans who think he is doing a good job — has eroded to the same 30 percent level.

Sixty-nine percent of those responding to the CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll believe things are going badly in Iraq. Only 17 percent think the situation is improving. And President Bush is losing his base of support — fellow Republicans. The CNN poll found 42 percent of Republicans now believe the United States should be withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Shifting tide

The tide is shifting in Congress, too.

Soft-spoken and well-respected Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., shook the capital community last week when he distanced himself from Bush and called the Iraq War strategy a failure. In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, the mild-mannered Lugar said, “I speak to my fellow senators when I say that the president is not the only American leader who will have to make adjustments to his or her thinking. In my judgment, the costs and risk of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved.”

Lugar’s courageous — albeit late — condemnation of the war in Iraq sent shock waves through the halls of Congress. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, followed Lugar’s lead the next day with a letter to the president that said, in part, “We must begin to develop a comprehensive plan for our country’s gradual military disengagement from Iraq and a corresponding increase in responsibility to the Iraqi government and its regional neighbors.”

Voinovich told CNN, “I think everybody knows that we fumbled the ball right from the beginning on this.”

The two Republican lawmakers are right. We have to begin the withdrawal of troops. It needs to be an orderly exodus in order to protect our troops and to give some hope that the Iraqi army will fill the void over time.

It was a lie to say we invaded Iraq to protect the United States from terrorists just as it is a lie to say leaving will aid the terrorists. Let them wallow alone in the middle of this bitter, multi-front civil and sectarian war. It isn’t worth a single more American life.

Cover for Republicans

As the top Republican and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar’s criticism should give more Republicans the cover they need to challenge Bush on the war.

It’s clear that the president’s prescription for victory — the so-called surge — is well in place, yet the increase in troops has not diminished the violence. If anything, Baghdad is a bigger killing field today than it was prior to the troop buildup.

Bush continues to stall for time, saying no rational assessment of the surge’s success or failure can be made until September.

How many more Americans will forfeit their lives on the battlefield between now and then? How many more tax dollars will be spent to stall America’s inevitable departure?

It’s time to end the American bloodshed. It’s time to bring the troops home.

Paul Krugman - Sacrifice Is for Suckers

Sacrifice Is for Suckers
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

On this Fourth of July, President Bush compared the Iraq war to the Revolutionary War, and called for “more patience, more courage and more sacrifice.” Unfortunately, it seems that nobody asked the obvious question: “What sacrifices have you and your friends made, Mr. President?”

On second thought, there would be no point in asking that question. In Mr. Bush’s world, only the little people make sacrifices.

You see, the Iraq war, although Mr. Bush insists that it’s part of a Global War on Terror™, a fight to the death between good and evil, isn’t like America’s other great wars — wars in which the wealthy shared the financial burden through higher taxes and many members of the elite fought for their country.

This time around, Mr. Bush celebrated Mission Accomplished by cutting tax rates on dividends and capital gains, while handing out huge no-bid contracts to politically connected corporations. And in the four years since, as the insurgency Mr. Bush initially taunted with the cry of “Bring them on” has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and left thousands more grievously wounded, the children of the elite — especially the Republican elite — have been conspicuously absent from the battlefield.

The Bushies, it seems, like starting fights, but they don’t believe in paying any of the cost of those fights or bearing any of the risks. Above all, they don’t believe that they or their friends should face any personal or professional penalties for trivial sins like distorting intelligence to get America into an unnecessary war, or totally botching that war’s execution.

The Web site Think Progress has a summary of what happened to the men behind the war after we didn’t find W.M.D., and weren’t welcomed as liberators: “The architects of war: Where are they now?” To read that summary is to be awed by the comprehensiveness and generosity of the neocon welfare system. Even Paul Wolfowitz, who managed the rare feat of messing up not one but two high-level jobs, has found refuge at the American Enterprise Institute.

Which brings us to the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.

The hysteria of the neocons over the prospect that Mr. Libby might actually do time for committing perjury was a sight to behold. In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “Fallen Soldier,” Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University cited the soldier’s creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” He went on to declare that “Scooter Libby was a soldier in your — our — war in Iraq.”

Ah, yes. Shuffling papers in an air-conditioned Washington office is exactly like putting your life on the line in Anbar or Baghdad. Spending 30 months in a minimum-security prison, with a comfortable think-tank job waiting at the other end, is exactly like having half your face or both your legs blown off by an I.E.D.

What lay behind the hysteria, of course, was the prospect that for the very first time one of the people who tricked America into war, then endangered national security yet again in the effort to cover their tracks, might pay some price. But Mr. Ajami needn’t have worried.

Back when the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity began, Mr. Bush insisted that if anyone in his administration had violated the law, “that person will be taken care of.” Now we know what he meant. Mr. Bush hasn’t challenged the verdict in the Libby case, and other people convicted of similar offenses have spent substantial periods of time in prison. But Mr. Libby goes free.

Oh, and don’t fret about the fact that Mr. Libby still had to pay a fine. Does anyone doubt that his friends will find a way to pick up the tab?

Mr. Bush says that Mr. Libby’s punishment remains “harsh” because his reputation is “forever damaged.” Meanwhile, Mr. Bush employs, as a deputy national security adviser, none other than Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Abrams was one of six Iran-contra defendants pardoned by Mr. Bush’s father, who was himself a subject of the special prosecutor’s investigation of the scandal.

In other words, obstruction of justice when it gets too close to home is a family tradition. And being a loyal Bushie means never having to say you’re sorry.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

'Supporting the troops' means withdrawing them

'Supporting the troops' means withdrawing them
COMMENTARY | July 05, 2007

Gen. William Odom writes that opponents of the war should focus public attention on the fact that Bush’s obstinate refusal to admit defeat is causing the troops enormous psychological as well as physical harm.

By William E. Odom

Every step the Democrats in Congress have taken to force the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq has failed. Time and again, President Bush beats them into submission with charges of failing to "support the troops."

Why do the Democrats allow this to happen? Because they let the president define what "supporting the troops" means. His definition is brutally misleading. Consider what his policies are doing to the troops.

No U.S. forces have ever been compelled to stay in sustained combat conditions for as long as the Army units have in Iraq. In World War II, soldiers were considered combat-exhausted after about 180 days in the line. They were withdrawn for rest periods. Moreover, for weeks at a time, large sectors of the front were quiet, giving them time for both physical and psychological rehabilitation. During some periods of the Korean War, units had to fight steadily for fairly long periods but not for a year at a time. In Vietnam, tours were one year in length, and combat was intermittent with significant break periods.

In Iraq, combat units take over an area of operations and patrol it daily, making soldiers face the prospect of death from an IED or small arms fire or mortar fire several hours each day. Day in and day out for a full year, with only a single two-week break, they confront the prospect of death, losing limbs or eyes, or suffering other serious wounds. Although total losses in Iraq have been relatively small compared to most previous conflicts, the individual soldier is risking death or serious injury day after day for a year. The impact on the psyche accumulates, eventually producing what is now called "post-traumatic stress disorders." In other words, they are combat-exhausted to the point of losing effectiveness. The occasional willful killing of civilians in a few cases is probably indicative of such loss of effectiveness. These incidents don't seem to occur during the first half of a unit's deployment in Iraq.

After the first year, following a few months back home, these same soldiers are sent back for a second year, then a third year, and now, many are facing a fourth deployment! Little wonder more and more soldiers and veterans are psychologically disabled.

And the damage is not just to enlisted soldiers. Many officers are suffering serious post-traumatic stress disorders but are hesitant to report it – with good reason. An officer who needs psychiatric care and lets it appear on his medical records has most probably ended his career. He will be considered not sufficiently stable to lead troops. Thus officers are strongly inclined to avoid treatment and to hide their problems.

There are only two ways to fix this problem, both of which the president stubbornly rejects. Instead, his recent "surge" tactic has compelled the secretary of defense to extend Army tours to 15 months! (The Marines have been allowed to retain their six-month deployment policy and, not surprisingly, have fewer cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome.)

The first solution would be to expand the size of the Army to two or three times its present level, allowing shorter combat tours and much longer breaks between deployments. That cannot be done rapidly enough today, even if military conscription were restored and new recruits made abundant. It would take more than a year to organize and train a dozen new brigade combat teams. The Clinton administration cut the Army end strength by about 40 percent – from about 770,000 to 470,000 during the 1990s. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld looked for ways to make the cuts even deeper. Thus this administration and its predecessor aggressively gave up ground forces and tactical air forces while maintaining large maritime forces that cannot be used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, the lack of wisdom in that change in force structure is being paid for not by President Bush or President Clinton but by the ordinary soldier and his family. They have no lobby group to seek relief for them.

The second way to alleviate the problem is to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as possible and as securely as possible. The electorate understands this. That is why a majority of voters favor withdrawing from Iraq.

If the Democrats truly want to succeed in forcing President Bush to begin withdrawing from Iraq, the first step is to redefine "supporting the troops" as withdrawing them, citing the mass of accumulating evidence of the psychological as well as the physical damage that the president is forcing them to endure because he did not raise adequate forces. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress could confirm this evidence and lay the blame for "not supporting the troops" where it really belongs – on the president. And they could rightly claim to the public that they are supporting the troops by cutting off the funds that he uses to keep U.S. forces in Iraq.

The public is ahead of the both branches of government in grasping this reality, but political leaders and opinion makers in the media must give them greater voice.

Congress clearly and indisputably has two powers over the executive: the power of the purse and the power to impeach. Instead of using either, members of congress are wasting their time discussing feckless measures like a bill that "de-authorizes the war in Iraq." That is toothless unless it is matched by a cut-off of funds.

The president is strongly motivated to string out the war until he leaves office, in order to avoid taking responsibility for the defeat he has caused and persisted in making greater each year for more than three years.

To force him to begin a withdrawal before then, the first step should be to rally the public by providing an honest and candid definition of what "supporting the troops" really means and pointing out who is and who is not supporting our troops at war. The next step should be a flat refusal to appropriate money for to be used in Iraq for anything but withdrawal operations with a clear deadline for completion.

The final step should be to put that president on notice that if ignores this legislative action and tries to extort Congress into providing funds by keeping U.S. forces in peril, impeachment proceeding will proceed in the House of Representatives. Such presidential behavior surely would constitute the "high crime" of squandering the lives of soldiers and Marines for his own personal interest.

Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), is a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He was Director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988. From 1981 to 1985, he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army's senior intelligence officer. From 1977 to 1981, he was Military Assistant to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Anthrax Coverup: A Government Insider Speaks Out

Anthrax Coverup: A Government Insider Speaks Out
Submitted by davidswanson on Tue, 2007-07-03 20:08.

By Steve Watson

Is it possible that the anthrax attacks were launched from within our own government? A former Bush 1 advisor thinks it is.

Francis A. Boyle, an international law expert who worked under the first Bush Administration as a bioweapons advisor in the 1980s, has said that he is convinced the October 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people were perpetrated and covered up by criminal elements of the U.S. government. The motive: to foment a police state by killing off and intimidating opposition to post-9/11 legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the later Military Commissions Act.

"After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration tried to ram the USA PATRIOT Act through Congress," Boyle said in a radio interview with Austin-based talk-show host Alex Jones. "That would have set up a police state.

"Senators Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
were holding it up because they realized what this would lead to. The
first draft of the PATRIOT Act would have suspended the writ of habeas
corpus [which protects citizens from unlawful imprisonment and
guarantees due process of law]. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere,
come these anthrax attacks."

"At the time I myself did not know precisely what was going on, either
with respect to September 11 or the anthrax attacks, but then the New
York Times revealed the technology behind the letter to Senator
Daschle. [The anthrax used was] a trillion spores per gram, [refined
with] special electro-static treatment. This is superweapons-grade
anthrax that even the United States government, in its openly
proclaimed programs, had never developed before. So it was obvious to
me that this was from a U.S. government lab. There is nowhere else you
could have gotten that."

Boyle's assessment was based on his years of expertise regarding
America's bioweapons programs. He was responsible for drafting the
Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 that was passed
unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President
George H.W. Bush.

After realizing that the anthrax attacks looked like a domestic job,
Boyle called a high-level official in the FBI who deals with terrorism
and counterterrorism, Marion "Spike" Bowman. Boyle and Bowman had met
at a terrorism conference at the University of Michigan Law School.
Boyle told Bowman that the only people who would have the capability to
carry out the attacks were individuals working on U.S. government
anthrax programs with access to a high-level biosafety lab. Boyle gave
Bowman a full list of names of scientists, contractors and labs
conducting anthrax work for the U.S. government and military.

Bowman then informed Boyle that the FBI was working with Fort Detrick
on the matter. Boyle expressed his view that Fort Detrick could be the
main problem. As widely reported in 2002 publications, notably the New
Scientist, the anthrax strain used in the attacks was officially
assessed as "military grade."

"Soon after I informed Bowman of this information, the FBI authorized
the destruction of the Ames cultural anthrax database," the professor
said. The Ames strain turned out to be the same strain as the spores
used in the attacks.

The alleged destruction of the anthrax culture collection at Ames,
Iowa, from which the Fort Detrick lab got its pathogens, was blatant
destruction of evidence. It meant that there was no way of finding out
which strain was sent to whom to develop the larger breed of anthrax
used in the attacks. The trail of genetic evidence would have led
directly back to a secret government biowarfare program.

"Clearly, for the FBI to have authorized this was obstruction of
justice, a federal crime," said Boyle. "That collection should have
been preserved and protected as evidence. That's the DNA, the
fingerprints right there. It later came out, of course, that this was
Ames strain anthrax that was behind the Daschle and Leahy letters."

At that point, recounted Boyle, it became very clear to him that there
was a coverup underway. He later discovered, while reading David Ray
Griffin's book on the 9/11 attacks, The New Pearl Harbor, that Bowman
was the same FBI agent who allegedly sabotaged the FISA warrant for
access to [convicted co-conspirator] Zacharias Moussaoui's computer
prior to 9/11. Moussaoui's computer contained information that could
have helped prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and the

In 2003, Bowman was promoted and given the Presidential Rank Award by
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a
letter to Mueller, chastising the organization for granting such an
honor to an agent who had so obviously compromised America's security.

During the anthrax scare, the House of Representatives was officially
shut down for the first time in the history of the republic. Once
opposition from Leahy and Daschle evaporated in the wake of the
attempts on their lives, the USA PATRIOT Act was rammed through.
Testimony by Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) revealed that most
members of Congress were compelled to vote for the bill without even
reading it.

"They were going to move to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which is
all that really separates us from a police state," Boyle said. "And
that is what they have done now with respect to enemy combatants [in
the Military Commissions Act of 2006]." Boyle added that lawmakers are
now arguing that Amendment XIV, which guarantees due process of law to
all Americans, does not mean what it has been taken to mean and that,
under the Military Commissions Act, any U.S. citizen can be stripped of
citizenship and be labeled an enemy combatant.

Continued Boyle: "In other words, they have taken the position that at
some point in time, if they want to, they can unilaterally round up
United States native-born citizens, as they did for Japanese-Americans
in World War II, and stick us into concentration camps." Boyle asserted
that top officials, such as White House legal advisor John Yoo and
former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith (now a professor at
Harvard Law School), are pushing for the legalization of torture as

"The Nazis did the exact same thing," said Boyle. "They had their
lawyers infiltrating law schools. Carl Schmidt was the worst, and he
was the mentor to Leo Strauss, the [ideological] founder of the
neoconservatives. So the same phenomenon that started in Nazi Germany
is happening here, and I exaggerate not. We could all be tortured; we
could all be treated this way."

Boyle stressed that it is vital to keep up the pressure on Senator
Leahy, who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him
subpoena power. Since Leahy was himself a target, he may have
sufficient motivation to get to the bottom of the attacks. The FBI and
the Justice Department have so far refused full disclosure to Congress.

In addition to his credentials as a government advisor, Boyle also
holds a doctorate of law magna cum laude and a Ph.D. in political
science, both from Harvard University. He teaches international law at
the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Boyle also served on
the Board of Directors of Amnesty International (1988-92) and
represented Bosnia-Herzegovina at the World Court.

Boyle alleged that due to his activities as a lawyer, he was
interrogated by an agent from the CIA/FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in
the summer of 2004. The agent tried to recruit him as an informant to
provide the FBI with information on his Arab and Muslim clients. When
he refused, according to Boyle, the FBI placed him on the government's
terrorism watch lists.

A Pardon on the Installment Plan; An Investigation Sabotaged

A Pardon on the Installment Plan; An Investigation Sabotaged
by Hunter (dailykos)
Wed Jul 04, 2007 at 12:05:04 PM CDT

It should be noted, for future record, that the President of the United States has just used his power of clemency to sabotage an active criminal investigation into the office of his own Vice President. In some parallel universes, I have heard tell that such a thing was once itself considered corruption, or obstruction. It seems at minimum useful to put a footnote in the history books, somewhere, that such a remarkable thing could happen and still receive not merely praise, but unsheepish celebration among people who pretend nightly to be serious about such things.

I think almost everyone involved sees this as what it almost certainly is: Scooter Libby, loyal to the last, is getting his pardon on the installment plan. There is little advantage -- and distinct disadvantage -- for Bush to pardon the charges entirely, at the moment, but Bush indeed came through with an impeccably timed effort to ensure Libby faced no actual material consequences from his actions. Facing immediate jail time? Then kill the jail time. All of it, from day one onward. If Libby was in any actual danger of having to pay his $250,000 fine, there seems little doubt he would have seen that part of his sentence commuted as well.

But now Libby is in no imminent danger: problem solved. Bush has neatly and in one action removed any impetus for Libby -- or anyone else -- to cooperate with government investigators. There is no leverage a prosecutor can use against Libby, in order to gain a plea deal in exchange for information that he has so far refused to provide. Conservative backers have contributed more than five million dollars in a slush fund for Libby's defense, and are eager to help him in his hour of need; it seems hard to believe that Libby himself will ever have to contribute even one thin dime towards his own fine. He will be, presuming his appeal runs its course in the next year and a half without still more intervention, a convicted felon, but one whose sole substantive punishment will be the well-financed adulation of his supporters as a true martyr.

We should note here, for the record, the magnificent-if-selective cowardice of Scooter Libby. He allowed Judith Miller to go to jail for three months on his behalf, keeping his silence until the pressure had built to intolerable levels. His willingness to sacrifice others -- at least in direct proportion to their access to power -- for his own freedom has at this point been well established. He relied on the sacrifices of others for his own self-preservation, sacrificing himself in turn only to one thin premise: that lying to investigators was an acceptable thing, in exchange for... what? He lied to investigators, repeatedly and provably, rather than cooperate in a case that threatened to implicate his own more powerful friends. Seldom is justice in a single case so transparently stratified, each layer of establishment Washington valiantly wounding itself in obsequious service to the one above it.

But after it all, the consequences of the law were considered too much. Nobody expects a mere Scooter Libby to have the ruggedness of a Martha Stewart, the toughened pastry chef and craftsperson who somehow managed to soldier through jail time on her own without requiring the intervention of two of the four known branches of constitutional government. Amidst dire pleas from conservatives, President Bush cited the excessiveness of Libby's 30-month sentence, and substituted not 15 months, or even one, or even one lazy afternoon, but instead deemed even a single hour to be excessive, for the crime of obstructing justice in an investigation into his own White House, and the office of his own Vice President. No clearer signal to future prosecutors could possibly be given, short of simply Xeroxing up clemencies on cardstock to be distributed as Christmas gifts -- and we may yet see that.

Let me reemphasize: George W. Bush claimed repeatedly that the sentence in this case was excessive. But when it came time to decide what punishment would not be excessive, Bush chose zero. Not a month, a week, or even a single summer day in jail would be appropriate in this case of obstruction, the President asserted. Even the prospect of a single hour behind bars, for this particular most senior of senior members of the Vice President's staff, required immediate neutralizing action.

Eighteen months from now, on some mid-January day, Libby will of course be lauded for his great service to the nation -- that service in no way being the remarkable ability to keep his mouth tightly shut in face of a criminal investigation into activities at the White House, perish the thought -- and fully pardoned. Bush's statement about respecting jury opinions will be recast once again, this time to the effect of "I respect the jury opinions, but Scooter has had quite the rough time of it lately, what with all these investigations and indictments and whatnot, and has suffered enough. Let the healing begin!" This will be lauded by administration members, administration friends, other indicted members of the Republican party, and by "centrist" pundits eager to ply all of them for quotes and insights. The mere premise that a member of his administration would be held accountable for criminal actions as others would be is not just unthinkable, but has been a matter of great contention throughout Bush's presidency, requiring elaborate fictions of legalese to defend even the transparently illegal, such as domestic espionage and torture, and even more tortured justifications for reasons why no such justifications need be given in the first place.

This case is, and has been, a touchstone. Scooter Libby was indicted and convicted for obstruction of justice in a criminal investigation that reached into the office of the Vice President himself, and that obstruction of justice is still ongoing. It has not gone away. It has not been resolved. The only change is that, now, the President of the United States has interrupted the trial process, the appeal process, the prospects for plea and negotiation, and the ongoing White House investigation itself in order to preemptively inoculate the most key witness in the case from further investigation, testimony, or punishment.

There is no rationale that justifies such an act, and merely being used to such levels of corruption on the part of the Bush administration and the rest of the conservative movement in service of the quest for unitary power does not excuse that corruption. Bush may have never been willing to discuss an "ongoing case" inside his White House, but he was more than willing to use his Constitutional powers to shut it down at the precise moment judgment suddenly became a material, tactile thing.

When seeking clemency for a criminal obstruction of justice, it is always considered a stroke of luck to have committed the obstruction on behalf of individuals with the power to grant such clemency. And when predicting actions on the part of George W. Bush, it's always best to presume he would take the exact same actions a crime boss would take, if a crime boss were in a position to take them. With each passing day, Bush becomes a little less presidential, and a little more like Al Capone with an Air Force.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sidney Blumenthal - Bush and Cheney walk, too

Bush and Cheney walk, too
Even as the president confesses that Scooter Libby engaged in a cover-up -- after all, that was the verdict -- he completes the ultimate obstruction of justice in the Plame affair.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Jul. 03, 2007 | In the Plame case, as in nearly every matter, Vice President Dick Cheney controlled and directed the flow of information that shaped the decision making of President George W. Bush. When Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, published "Missing in Action: Truth," on May 6, 2003, referring to but not mentioning by name former Ambassador Joseph Wilson as one who conducted a mission to Niger, where he found no evidence of Saddam Hussein seeking to purchase yellowcake uranium for nuclear weaponry, Cheney furiously launched the effort to discover Wilson's identity and to discredit him. He ordered I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his chief of staff, to head the operation. Libby's frenetic activity triggered a secret State Department investigation and memo that identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA operative.

Cheney aroused President Bush to the danger from Wilson. A handwritten note by Libby that surfaced in his trial revealed that Bush raised his concern about the Kristof column in a subsequent June 9 meeting. The next day, the State Department memo "Niger/Iraq Uranium Story" began circulating within the administration. On June 12, Cheney identified Plame to Libby, and Libby went hard to work. Within three days, he discussed Plame with five officials. On July 6, after Wilson published a New York Times op-ed disclosing that the rationale the president gave for the war was premised on false information, an enraged Cheney ordered Libby into high gear. Cheney also secured Bush's concurrence for Libby to leak selected parts of the still-classified National Intelligence Estimate on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction to New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8. Bush, therefore, was deeply involved. But what did the president know, and when did he know it?

Bush's commutation of Libby's 30-month prison sentence for four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice was as politically necessary to hold his remaining hardcore base for the rest of his 18 months in office as it was politically damaging to his legacy and to the possibility of a Republican succession. It was also essential in order to sustain Libby's cover-up protecting Cheney and perhaps Bush himself.

The sole reason that Bush offers for the commutation -- that Judge Reggie Walton's sentence was "excessive" -- is transparently false. Indeed, the sentence meets the normal guidelines for such a crime. "The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country," said Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor. "In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws." Nothing is irregular or extraordinary about the length of the sentence, except the person receiving it.

It was not the judge who exceeded the sentencing guidelines; it is the president who ignored federal standards for commutations, by which it is customary that the convicted person serve some time before being eligible. Dishonestly appealing to the letter of the law, Bush's spirit of impunity is masked as benevolence and mercy.

Even as Bush attacked the judgment of Walton, his own appointee to the federal bench, he acknowledged Libby's guilt, declaring: "I respect the jury's verdict." Even as Bush engages in juridical nullification, he does not seek jury nullification. By confessing that Libby was engaged in a cover-up -- after all, that was the verdict -- Bush establishes his own motive. In brief, Bush's act ratifies Libby's cover-up. The "cloud over the vice president" that the prosecutor decried will never be dispelled. Cheney -- and Bush -- walk, too.

Libby had to have understood, without a word ever being passed, that leniency of some sort would be granted. His steadfast cover-up was encouraged by his intimate knowledge of the methods of Cheney and Bush. The fine he must pay -- $250,000 -- is meaningless because he will certainly not be paying it himself. His legal defense fund, supported by the friends of the president and vice president, boasts a treasury of $5 million. He has been well taken care of.

The pardon is the one monarchical power that the framers of the Constitution assigned the presidency. But they placed one restriction, that it could not be exercised for impeachment. In other words, the president could not use his power to pardon himself. Bush is entirely within his narrow right to use the pardon power in the Libby case. But it violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law governing that power because it is a consummate gesture of self-exoneration, at least if the vice president is an "entity within the executive branch." Bush rewards Libby's cover-up, thwarting the investigation into Cheney's and perhaps his culpability. Bush's commutation is the successful culmination of the obstruction of justice.

Since 1776, on every July Fourth, the Declaration of Independence has been posted in public places, published in newspapers and read aloud. Its bill of particulars contains these two passages defining royal tyranny and justifying revolution:

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. ... For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.

Happy Fourth.

Lewis Libby owes his freedom to our corrupt political elite

Lewis Libby owes his freedom to our corrupt political elite

(updated below)

That Lewis Libby has been protected by George Bush from the consequences of his crimes only highlights how corrupt and broken our political system is. It reveals nothing new. This is the natural, inevitable outgrowth of our rancid political culture, shaped and slavishly defended by our Beltway ruling class and our serious, sober opinion-making elite.

The disasters and rampant lawlessness and fundamental erosion of our country's political values and institutions are exactly what Fred Hiatt and David Broder and Time Magazine and Tim Russert and Tom Friedman and the New Republic geniuses have spent the last six years protecting, enabling and defending. We have the country we have -- one in which our most powerful political leaders are literally beyond the reach of the law in every sense, where we casually invade and bomb and occupy countries that have not attacked us, where our moral standing in the world has collapsed with good reason, where we are viewed on every continent in the world as a rogue, dangerous and lawless nation -- because we are ruled by a Beltway elite and political press that is sickly and cowardly and slavish at its core.

That Dick Cheney's top aide, one of the most well-connected neoconservatives on the planet, is protected from the consequences of his felonies ought to be anything but surprising. That is the country that we have. It is a result that is completely consistent with the "values" that define official Washington. No other outcome was possible.

The Plame investigation was urged by the Bush CIA and commenced by the Bush DOJ, Libby's conviction pursued by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor, his jail sentence imposed by a Bush-appointed "tough-on-crime" federal judge, all pursuant to harsh and merciless criminal laws urged on by the "tough-on-crime/no-mercy" GOP. Lewis Libby was sent to prison by the system constructed and desired by the very Republican movement protesting his plight.

But our political discourse and media institutions are so broken and corrupt that Bush followers (and their media enablers) feel free to make the completely-backwards and fact-free claim that the Libby prosecution was driven by "partisan" and "political" motives -- as though it was a mirror image of the Clinton persecution driven by Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and a purely partisan Republican prosecutor -- because they know that there is no such thing as a claim too false to be passed on without real objection by our vapid, drooling press corps.

For the right-wing political movement that has spawned the Bush disasters of the last six years, the exoneration of Lewis Libby was not merely something they supported. It was much more than that. It was a matter of the greatest importance. That is because Libby is a True Believer, a loyal member of their cult. Seeing him in prison would be humiliating, would make them feel weak and defeated at the hands of the Enemy (defined as "anyone who opposes them"), which is the worst outcome there is.

The only "principle" they have is that their movement is Good, those who oppose it Evil, and loyal members of their movement -- and especially its Leaders -- must never have their power checked or limited in any way. One who serves at Dick Cheney's side cannot possibly be in prison. Literally, there is no crime their Leaders can commit which will render them unwilling to defend and justify it. The overriding priority is that they remain strong and powerful, immune from the constraints of the law.

Hence, the country's right-wing movement made the defense of Lewis Libby one of its most impassioned causes, and one of the leading candidates seeking to lead it -- Fred Thompson -- made exoneration of this convicted felon one of his principal missions over the last two years. And he does so while running around spitting out tough and righteous sermons about the need to restore the "rule of law": "It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it," he said in the very same speech where he urged Libby's pardon. One of the prime defenders of Lewis Libby has the audacity to say such things with a straight face because he knows how broken our political and media institutions are.

But the most significant disease highlighted by the Libby travesty is also the most obvious one. We have decided to be a country in which our highest Republican political officials can break the law freely, without any real consequence. In the United States, the law does not apply to the President and his closest aides. And there is one fact after the next which proves that.

Almost thirty years ago, the American people reacted with fury and horror over revelations by the Church Committee that every administration in prior decades had been spying on Americans for completely improper purposes. In response, they enacted a law, through their Congress, making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial approval, punishable by 5 years in prison for each offense. Since 1977, it has been a felony in the United States for political officials to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial warrants.

But in December of 2005, The New York Times revealed that George Bush had been breaking this law -- committing felonies -- every day for the prior four years. And when he was caught, he went on television and proudly admitted what he had done and vowed defiantly to continue doing it. And our wise and serious Washington media establishment shrugged, even applauded. They directed their fury only at those who objected to the lawbreaking. The GOP-controlled Congress blocked every attempt to investigate this criminality -- with virtually no outcry -- and then set out to pass a new law making this criminality retroactively legal. In response to revelations that the President was deliberately breaking the law, official Washington fell all over itself figuring out the most efficient way to protect and defend the President's crimes.

Ever since Gerald Ford, with the support of our permanent Beltway ruling class, pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes -- followed naturally by the current President's father shielding his own friends and aides from the consequences of serious criminal convictions for lying to Congress and deliberately breaking its laws, with one of those criminals then appointed with no objection by his son to run Middle East policy from the White House -- we have been a nation which allows our highest political officials to reside beyond the reach of law. It is just that simple.

And over the last six years, that "principle" has been extended to its most extreme though logical conclusions. This administration expressly adopted theories -- right out in the open -- which, as it its central premise, states that the President is greater than the law, that his "obligation" to protect the nation means that nothing and nobody can limit what he does, including -- especially -- the laws enacted by our Congress, no matter how radical and extreme that conduct is.

In response to this most audacious declaration of Presidential Omnipotence, our Sober Guardians of Political Wisdom shrugged. Those who objected too strenuously, who used terms such as "criminal" and "lawlessness" or who raised the specter of impeachment -- the tool created by the Founders to redress executive lawbreaking -- were branded as radicals or impetuous, unserious partisan hysterics. The only crime recognized by official Washington is using impetuous or excessively irreverent language to object to the lawbreaking and radicalism of the Leader, or acting too aggressively to investigate it. That is the only crime that triggers their outrage.

Even with an overarching Ideology of Lawlessness explicitly embraced by their President right in front of their faces -- an ideology used to torture people, to detain people in "law-free" dungeons around the world, even to abduct our fellow citizens on U.S. soil and put them into a black hole for years without any charges or even contact with the outside world -- our political establishment stood by him, supported him, insisting that he and his Vice President were serious, responsible men acting under difficult circumstances to protect us, and that the only ones deserving of true scorn were those who were overzealous in their criticisms of the Leaders.

The President and his followers know that they can apply completely different rules to themselves, and freely break the law, because our Washington establishment, our "political press," will never object too strenuously, or even at all. Over the last six years, our media has directed their hostility only towards those who investigate or attempt to hold accountable the most powerful members of our political system -- hence their attacks on the GOP prosecutor investigating the Bush administration's crimes, their anger towards the very few investigative reporters trying to uncover Washington's secrets, and their righteous condemnation towards each of the handful of attempts by Congress to exercise investigative oversight of the administration.

The political press -- the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful -- now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable. Hence, in official Washington, the Real Villains are Patrick Fitzgerald, Ken Silverstein, Russ Feingold and his Censure resolution, Pat Leahy and his disruptive subpoenas -- our Beltway elite reserves their venom for those who want to turn the lights on what our most powerful political officials are doing.

What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.

In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton described the defining power of the King which made the British monarchy intolerably corrupt: "In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred." Thomas Paine proclaimed in Common Sense "that so far as we approve of monarch, that in America THE LAW IS KING." But little effort is required to see how far removed we now are from those basic principles.

It it no surprise that we have political leaders who are corrupt and abuse their power. Our whole political system is premised on the expectation that this will happen. But that expectation was accompanied by the attempt by the Founders to create as many safeguards and checks on those abuses as possible. Over the last six years, all of those safeguards have failed completely.

We have a radical and lawless government that has run rampant over the last six years precisely because the institutions designed to stop that abuse have not only stood idly by, but have actively defended and participated in it. We actually have a press corps that holds, as its central belief, that our highest government officials should be free of investigation and accountability. In every country ruled by a lawless government and a corrupt political and media elite, powerful political officials do not go to prison for crimes. That is why convicted felon Lewis Libby will remain free.

UPDATE: Behold the pure derangement pervading our country's right-wing movement, as displayed today by National Review commentator and right-wing radio talk show host Mark Levin:

The Commutation

The way I see it, Lewis Libby was about to become a political prisoner and the president prevented that.

As Harper's Scott Horton noted yesterday in a superb post (and I return the sentiment Horton expressed in the first paragraph of his post today), the neocon mentality is quite similar to the core tactics of the KGB, whose modus operandi Horton knows well from his years of defending democracy and human rights advocates in the former Soviet Union:

Moreover, this episode tells us one of the most deeply guarded truths of the Inner Party of the Neocon movement, namely: the ends justify the means. That is, to accomplish a goal accepted by the Inner Party, you are entitled to do anything -- break the law, by all means, and indeed set the law into oblivion if you can. That explains the fate of the Geneva Conventions, which were, alas, simply inconvenient -- they got in the way of the notion that no rules can stand between us and the accomplishment of our objectives.

For the Nietzschean Neocon man (let's call him Ubermensch or perhaps even better, Scooter Libby), there are no rules; they exist for the people of the herd. And that explains the indignation when the rules for the herd are applied against Scooter.

Apropos of Horton's "Doppelganger" comment today, I documented precisely this neocon corruption several weeks ago by noting that neocons believe that no other neocon should ever be punished or otherwise held accountable for anything they do -- see e.g., Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Conrad Black, AIPAC officials charged with espionage, Elliot Abrams, etc. etc.

But this belief in intrinsic legal immunity extends to the entire Bush movement (which has become virtually synonymous with "neoconservatism"). That is what explains the literally endless defense not merely of individual acts of illegality, but of the claimed power to break the law in general. They are an authoritarian movement which believes only in its own power. By definition, none of its Leaders can ever be guilty of anything because to be a Leader of that movement means, by definition, that their actions are always for the Good and that anything which impedes those actions -- whether it be ethics, political principles of the law -- are unjust.

Obstruction of Justice, Continued

Obstruction of Justice, Continued

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 3:22 PM

During the course of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial for obstruction of justice and perjury, we learned a lot about his bosses.

Incremental discoveries that didn't garner major headlines nevertheless added to what we know -- and can reasonably surmise -- about Vice President Cheney and President Bush's role in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, which was revealed during the course of the administration's defense of its decision to go to war in Iraq.

We know, for instance, that Cheney was the first person to tell Libby about Plame's identity. We know that Cheney told Libby to leak Plame's identity to the New York Times in an attempt to discredit her husband, who had accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence. We know that Cheney wrote talking points that may have encouraged Libby and others to mention Plame to reporters. We know that Cheney once talked to Bush about Libby's assignment, and got permission from the president for Libby to leak hitherto classified information to the Times.

We don't know why Libby decided to lie to federal investigators about his role in the leak. But it's reasonable to conclude -- or at least strongly suspect -- that he was doing it to protect Cheney, and maybe even Bush.

Why, after all, was special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald so determined to get the truth from Libby and, barring that, to punish him for obstructing justice? Prosecutorial ethics preclude Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee, from answering such questions. But the most likely scenario is that he suspected that it was Cheney who committed the underlying crime -- that Cheney instructed Libby to out a CIA agent in his no-holds-barred crusade against a critic. (See my Feb. 21 column, The Cloud Over Cheney and my May 29 column, Fitzgerald Again Points to Cheney.)

All of this means that Bush's decision yesterday to commute Libby's prison sentence isn't just a matter of unequal justice. It is also a potentially self-serving and corrupt act.

Was there a quid pro quo at work? Was Libby being repaid for falling on his sword and protecting his bosses from further scrutiny? Alternately, was he being repaid for his defense team's abrupt decision in mid-trial not to drag Cheney into court, where he would have faced cross-examination by Fitzgerald? (See my March 8 column, Did Libby Make a Deal?)

Bush and Press Secretary Tony Snow this morning continued to stonewall when it comes to any of the important questions about this case, Cheney and Bush's involvement, and the commutation itself. Bush said he wouldn't rule out a future pardon for Libby -- but didn't have much else new to say. Snow was simply ducking questions while asserting repeatedly that the president is entitled to exercise his clemency power when he sees fit.

It's true that the Constitution grants the president unlimited clemency and pardon power. But presidents have generally used that power to show mercy or, in rare cases, make political amends -- not to protect themselves from exposure.

The Framers, ever sensitive to the need for checks and balances, recognized the potential for abuse of the pardon power. According to a Judiciary Committee report drafted in the aftermath of the Watergate crisis: "In the [Constitutional] convention George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to 'pardon crimes which were advised by himself' or, before indictment or conviction, 'to stop inquiry and prevent detection.' James Madison responded:

"[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty. . . .

"Madison went on to [say] contrary to his position in the Philadelphia convention, that the President could be suspended when suspected, and his powers would devolve on the Vice President, who could likewise be suspended until impeached and convicted, if he were also suspected."

Impeachment is off the table for congressional Democrats. But the political toll of Bush's choice could still be considerable. Besides Iraq, corruption was probably the one issue that most hurt Republicans in last year's election. And what is more corrupt than using the powers of the presidency for personal benefit?
Not Splitting the Difference

Bush's written statement announcing clemency was a clear attempt to suggest that he was splitting the difference between those who supported and opposed a pardon for Libby. But in fact, Bush's order grants Libby everything he needs in the short run while still keeping open the possibility of a pardon in the long run, as Bush heads out the door. And to law-and-order types, Bush's message may actually be more galling. For Bush to state he believed Libby to be innocent would at least have been defensible. Instead, what Bush is saying is that acknowledges the guilty verdict -- but, when it comes to his friends and colleagues, he just doesn't care what the justice system concluded was a fitting punishment.
The Stonewall Continues

I was only keeping half an ear on Snow's press briefing today (more about that on Thursday.) But from what I gather, he rejected any suggestion that the American people were owed a fuller explanation of Bush's decision. He continued to refuse to answer questions on the grounds that Libby's "legal process" is not yet over -- yet still found time to attack the veracity of Joe Wilson, Plame's husband.

A few of the more jaw-dropping utterances: "The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone." Asked if Bush had handled the decision in an extraordinary or routine manner, Snow said routine. Asked if the public was owed an apology for the White House behavior, Snow glibly shot back: "I'll apologize. Done."
Will the Press Keep Pressing for Answers?

Among the questions that Bush, Cheney and others should be facing:

* Does the president approve of Libby's conduct?

* On whose behalf did Libby act?

* Did the White House make any sort of a deal with Libby or his defense team?

* What did Bush know and when did he know it?

* When did he find out that Karl Rove and Libby had both leaked Plame's identity? Before or after he vowed that any leakers would be fired? Did anyone lie to him about their role? Why didn't he fire them?

* How does the conduct of his aides comport with Bush's vow to restore ethics to the White House? How does the commutation?

* What factors did the president take into account in deciding to commute the sentence?

* What does the president consider an appropriate punishment for perjury and obstruction of justice?

* What was Cheney's role in the commutation?

That's just for starters. Send more questions to I'll publish more on Thursday.
Bush's Statement

Here's the text of Bush's statement, and his grant of clemency.

"I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive," he wrote.

"Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation."
Fitzgerald's Statement

Here is Fitzgerald's response: "We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative and we do not comment on the exercise of that prerogative.

"We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as 'excessive.' The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws.

"It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing."
News Analysis

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush limited his deliberations over commuting the prison term of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby to a few close aides, opting not to consult with the Justice Department and rebuffing efforts by friends to lobby on Libby's behalf, administration officials and people close to Bush said yesterday. . . .

"For the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department, White House officials said. He also did not ask the chief prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, for his input, as routinely happens in cases routed through the Justice Department's pardon attorney.

"'Executive clemency is the president's exclusive power under the Constitution, and there are precedents for exercising that power without going through the pardon attorney process,' said Bush spokesman Tony Fratto."

Abramowitz writes that a senior administration official "said there is 'comfort' at the White House that the decision will not hurt him politically despite the Democratic outcry."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. was the act of a liberated man -- a leader who knows that, with 18 months left in the Oval Office and only a dwindling band of conservatives still behind him, he might as well do what he wants.

"The decision is a sharp departure for Mr. Bush. In determining whether to invoke his powers of clemency, the president typically relies on formal advice from lawyers at the Justice Department.

"But the Libby case, featuring a loyal aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was the architect and chief defender of the administration's most controversial foreign policy decision, the war in Iraq, was not just any clemency case. It came to symbolize an unpopular war and the administration's penchant for secrecy."

Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush's action shows that, with a little more than 18 months remaining in his second term and his influence at its lowest ebb, he is still willing to rely on his signature leadership style -- one that risks polarizing the country to take stands that satisfy his conservative base."

Massimo Calabresi writes for Time: "President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence on Monday will fuel speculation that others at the White House helped coordinate the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer in 2003. But politically the move makes sense...

"Those who suspect the worst about the Administration's role in the Plame case are not likely to become any more motivated than they already were against Bush and the Republicans. On the right, the Republican base, which demanded mercy for Libby, will be placated. Had Bush not acted, they would have turned on him, weakening the last pocket of support he has."

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "At a time when his popularity is as low as any president's in modern history, Bush's action . . . defied public opinion. Shortly after Libby was convicted in March, three national public opinion polls found that seven in 10 Americans said they would oppose a pardon of Libby.

"Still, the president appeared to calculate that he would antagonize his conservative base too severely if he did not provide Libby some form of reprieve, according to people close to the White House."

Goldstein reports that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is "expected to move swiftly to conduct hearings on the commutation, congressional sources said."

William Schneider reported on CNN: "It's very clear . . . that this will be horrendously unpopular. . . . Politically there will be direct repercussions. Of course President Bush can't run for re-elections, but there's going to be a lot of anger out there.

"I don't think it's going to be restricted simply to Democrats. Independents and some Republicans are going to be angry, and it's going to feed into the anger at Washington that seems to be poisoning the mood of the country and informing everything happening in the campaign so far. Americans are very resentful over the fact that someone who was convicted of a serious crime, for which many, many other people are in jail right now had his sentence commuted and will not go to jail. That's the important thing: Will not go to jail, because he has friends in high places. That's exactly what enrages people about business in Washington. . . .

"This anti-Washington, anti-establishment feeling, because of this instance of special treatment, is likely to become much more powerful."

John Harwood told Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News: "This is not going to be popular with the American public as a whole but Republicans are happy tonight, and I'll tell you, so is Dick Cheney."
Opinion Watch

Here is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann announcing the winner of last night's "worst person in the world" contest: "[B]y unanimous decision, the 43rd president of the United States, who has tonight commuted the sentence of one of the key members of his own administration, who has done it gutlessly, by press release, who has buried it on the Monday of the longest Fourth of July weekend possible, and who has, in so doing, forfeited his claim to being president of anything larger than a small, privileged, elitist, undemocratic, anti-constitutional cabal.

"As Oliver Cromwell said to the infamous Rump Parliament in England more than 350 years ago: 'You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you.' In the name of God, go. . . . As you may have suspected, tomorrow night, here on Countdown, a 'Special Comment' calling on this vice president and this president to resign. Tomorrow night on Countdown."

Josh Marshall blogs: "The real offense here is not so much or not simply that the president has spared Scooter Libby the punishment that anyone else would have gotten for this crime (for what it's worth, I actually find the commutation more outrageous than a full pardon). The deeper offense is that the president has used his pardon power to shortcircuit the investigation of a crime to which he himself was quite likely a party, and to which, his vice president, who controls him, certainly was.

"The president's power to pardon is full and unchecked, one of the few such powers given the president in the constitution. Yet here the president has used it to further obstruct justice. In a sense, perhaps we should thank the president for bringing the matter full circle. Began with criminality, ends with it."

Marcy Wheeler blogs for the Guardian: "[T]he real effect of Bush's actions is to prevent Libby from revealing the truth about Bush's -- and vice president Cheney's -- own actions in the leak. By commuting Libby's sentence, Bush protected himself and his vice president from potential criminal exposure for their actions in the CIA Leak. As such, Libby's commutation is nothing short of another obstruction of justice."

Joe Wilson on NPR: "Congress ought to conduct an investigation of whether or not the president himself is a participant in the obstruction of justice."

Libby trial book coauthor Jeff Lomonaco, in an op-ed he tried unsuccessfully to get published several weeks ago, predicted a commutation because "it would enable Bush and Cheney to continue the strategy they have successfully pursued in deterring journalists seeking their explanations with claims that they shouldn't comment on an ongoing legal proceeding. If Bush were to pardon Libby, he and Cheney would no longer have such a rationale for evading the press' questions - nor would Libby be able to claim the right against self-incrimination to resist testifying before Congress about the role that Cheney and Bush played in directing his conduct."

Joan Walsh blogs for Salon: "I was immediately reminded of a juvenile dirty joke about dogs: Why did Bush commute Libby's sentence? Because he can. He can't do much else: He can't win the war in Iraq, let alone the war on terror. He can't stop his approval ratings from continuing to decline. He can't pass immigration reform. He can't stop Dick Cheney from destroying his presidency, and the world. But he's got the power to do this, with a final kick at U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Valerie Plame. Is anyone really shocked?"

David Corn blogs for the Nation: "It's appropriate.

"The president who led the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq by peddling false statements and misrepresentations has come to the rescue of a White House aide convicted of lying by commuting his sentence. . . .

"The fine will be no problem for Libby. His neoconservative friends and admirers will kick in to cover that tab. (Perhaps even Cheney will send a check.)"

David Brooks starts off his New York Times opinion column (subscription required) by mocking Joe Wilson for having an unimaginative name then writes that Bush's decision "was exactly right. . . .

"Of course, the howlers howl. That is their assigned posture in this drama. They entered howling, they will leave howling and the only thing you can count on is their anger has been cynically manufactured from start to finish.

"The farce is over. It has no significance. Nobody but Libby's family will remember it in a few weeks time. Everyone else will have moved on to other fiascos, other poses, fresher manias."

Timothy Noah writes for Slate: "What Bush did was just and fair. It was the right thing to do." His explanation? "Two words: Bill Clinton. No fair-minded person can deny that the previous president committed perjury about Monica Lewinsky while serving in the Oval Office. The country knew it, and it let him get away with it."

Blogger Digby responds: "The country backed Bill Clinton because it was obvious that he was being pursued by a shrieking band of harpies over an inconsequential, sexual indiscretion, which anyone in his right mind would have lied about in that perjury trap of a deposition for that pathetic set-up lawsuit. The reason Clinton was supported by most Americans was because most of them understood exactly what had happened and they didn't think he merited the punishment of being forced from office. . . .

"Clinton was impeached and he faced the music. He was tried and acquitted according to the rules of the constitution. Bush, on the other hand, just used his plenary power to commute a sentence to cover his own bad deeds and keep one of his own aides from having to pay the price for his crimes. . . .

"And apparently, as predicted, that's just fine with a good portion of the DC establishment. The oh-so-jaded political observers like Tim Noah see this whole thing as some sort of partisan game of tag. . . .

"From their perches atop the commentariat they smugly dismiss the concerns of average Americans who are enraged that these people keep cheating and getting away with things that ordinary citizens and even powerful Democrats could never dream of getting away with -- they relentlessly smear their opponents with the filthiest lies, they stage partisan impeachments, they steal elections, they illegally start wars and make up novel authoritarian theories of governance -- and then they use their powers to excuse their minions from the consequences of these actions if they happen to get sloppy and get caught. None of them ever pay. Ever."

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon: "That Dick Cheney's top aide, one of the most well-connected neonconservatives in the world, is protected from the consequences of his felonies ought to be anything but surprising. That is the country that we have. It is a result that is completely consistent with the 'values' that define official Washington. No other outcome was possible. . . .

"The President and his followers know that they can apply completely different rules to themselves, and freely break the law, because our Washington establishment, our 'political press,' will never object too strenuously, or even at all. Over the last six years, our media has directed their hostility only towards those who investigate or attempt to hold accountable the most powerful members of our political system -- hence their attacks on the GOP prosecutor investigating the Bush administration's crimes, their anger towards the very few investigative reporters trying to uncover Washington's secrets, and their righteous condemnation towards each of the handful of attempts by Congress to exercise investigative oversight of the administration.

"The political press -- the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful -- now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable."

Glenn Reynolds blogs: "My prediction: Bush will rise in the polls as estranged conservatives warm to him in light of lefty indignation."
Democratic Reaction Watch

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada: "Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California: "The President said he would hold accountable anyone involved in the Valerie Plame leak case. By his action today, the President shows his word is not to be believed."

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware: "I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law."

More reaction compiled by the Associated Press and's Paul Kane.
Editorial Watch

The New York Times: "Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell."

The Washington Post, which had been editorially silent on the Libby issue since his sentencing, today notes an op-ed by William Otis that proposed commutation as an option on June 7. But The Post argues that Bush went too far: "We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did -- to probation and a large fine -- is not defensible."

The Chicago Tribune: "[I]n nixing the prison term, Bush sent a terrible message to citizens and to government officials who are expected to serve the public with integrity. The way for a president to discourage the breaking of federal laws is by letting fairly rendered consequences play out, however uncomfortably for everyone involved. The message to a Scooter Libby ought to be the same as it is for other convicts: You do the crime, you do the time."

The San Francisco Chronicle: "The special prosecutor observed that Libby's evasiveness cast 'a cloud' over the vice president.

"One juror called Libby 'the fall guy' for his boss and White House political guru Karl Rove.

"The cloud remains.

"The fall guy just received a far softer landing than he deserved."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "President Bush's commutation of a pal's prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system. It's the latest sign of the huge repairs to American concepts of the rule of law that await the next president. . . .

"The commutation illustrates a profoundly dispiriting and unshakable aspect of the administration. The president and Vice President Dick Cheney see themselves and their cohorts as above traditional concepts of legal and constitutional constraints on their conduct in office."

The Rocky Mountain News: "If Libby isn't going to prison for lying to a grand jury, then it's hard to see why anyone should.

"As the president himself said Monday, 'our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place.'

"They not only say it, Mr. President, it happens to be true."

The Denver Post: "President Bush's decision Monday to commute the sentence of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby is another disheartening example of the administration's appetite for trampling upon decisions made by other branches of government."

The Arizona Republic: "Fairness and the rule of law are core American values. Elected officials don't jump into the middle of the process and play favorites.

"Or so we thought."

The San Jose Mercury News: "Whether it's ignoring climate change to boost oil profits or feeding no-bid contracts to Halliburton, President Bush watches out for his pals - often at the expense of the American people. So it should have been no surprise Monday when the president commuted the sentence of Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, saving him from 2 1/2 years in prison.

"And yet, somehow it was. The contempt for the rule of law was so blatant, even for this administration."

The Wall Street Journal: "President Bush's commutation late yesterday afternoon of the prison sentence of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby will at least spare his former aide from 2 1/2 years in prison. But by failing to issue a full pardon, Mr. Bush is evading responsibility for the role his Administration played in letting the Plame affair build into fiasco and, ultimately, this personal tragedy. . . .

"Mr. Bush's commutation statement yesterday is [a] profile in non-courage. He describes the case for and against the Libby sentence with an antiseptic neutrality that would lead one to conclude that somehow the whole event was merely the result of Mr. Libby gone bad as a solo operator. . . .

"Mr. Libby deserved better from the President whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover. The consequences for the reputation of his Administration will also be long-lasting."

The New York Post: " Now the president should go all the way -- and grant Libby a full pardon.

"Commutation, after all, doesn't wipe away Libby's perjury conviction. A pardon would.

"Sure, a pardon would provoke an uproar in Washington.

"As if the commutation won't?"

Undercover, under fire

Undercover, under fire

The Washington press corps is too busy cozying up to the people it covers to get at the truth.

By Ken Silverstein, KEN SILVERSTEIN, a former Times staff writer, is the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine.
June 30, 2007

EARLIER THIS YEAR, I put on a brand-new tailored suit, picked up a sleek leather briefcase and headed to downtown Washington for meetings with some of the city's most prominent lobbyists. I had contacted their firms several weeks earlier, pretending to be the representative of a London-based energy company with business interests in Turkmenistan. I told them I wanted to hire the services of a firm to burnish that country's image.

I didn't mention that Turkmenistan is run by an ugly, neo-Stalinist regime. They surely knew that, and besides, they didn't care. As I explained in this month's issue of Harper's Magazine, the lobbyists I met at Cassidy & Associates and APCO were more than eager to help out. In exchange for fees of up to $1.5 million a year, they offered to send congressional delegations to Turkmenistan and write and plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think-tank experts they would recruit. They even offered to set up supposedly "independent" media events in Washington that would promote Turkmenistan (the agenda and speakers would actually be determined by the lobbyists).

All this, Cassidy and APCO promised, could be done quietly and unobtrusively, because the law that regulates foreign lobbyists is so flimsy that the firms would be required to reveal little information in their public disclosure forms.

Now, in a fabulous bit of irony, my article about the unethical behavior of lobbying firms has become, for some in the media, a story about my ethics in reporting the story. The lobbyists have attacked the story and me personally, saying that it was unethical of me to misrepresent myself when I went to speak to them.

That kind of reaction is to be expected from the lobbyists exposed in my article. But what I found more disappointing is that their concerns were then mirrored by Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who was apparently far less concerned by the lobbyists' ability to manipulate public and political opinion than by my use of undercover journalism.

"No matter how good the story," he wrote, "lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects."

I can't say I was utterly surprised by Kurtz's criticism. Some major media organizations allow, in principle, undercover journalism — assuming the story in question is deemed vital to the public interest and could not have been obtained through more conventional means — but very few practice it anymore. And that's unfortunate, because there's a long tradition of sting operations in American journalism, dating back at least to the 1880s, when Nellie Bly pretended to be insane in order to reveal the atrocious treatment of inmates at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island in New York City.

In the late 1970s, the Chicago Sun-Times bought its own tavern and exposed, in a 25-part series, gross corruption on the part of city inspectors (such as the fire inspector who agreed to ignore exposed electrical wiring for a mere $10 payoff). During that same decade, the Chicago Tribune won several Pulitzer Prizes with undercover reporting and "60 Minutes" gained fame for its use of sting stories.

Today, however, it's almost impossible to imagine a mainstream media outlet undertaking a major undercover investigation. That's partly a result of the 1997 verdict against ABC News in the Food Lion case. The TV network accused Food Lion of selling cheese that had been gnawed on by rats as well as spoiled meat and fish that had been doused in bleach to cover up its rancid smell. But even though the grocery chain never denied the allegations in court, it successfully sued ABC for fraud — arguing that the reporters only made those discoveries after getting jobs at Food Lion by lying on their resumes. In other words, the fact that their reporting was accurate was no longer a defense.

The decline of undercover reporting — and of investigative reporting in general — also reflects, in part, the increasing conservatism and cautiousness of the media, especially the smug, high-end Washington press corps. As reporters have grown more socially prominent during the last several decades, they've become part of the very power structure that they're supposed to be tracking and scrutinizing.

Chuck Lewis, a former "60 Minutes" producer and founder of the Center for Public Integrity, once told me: "The values of the news media are the same as those of the elite, and they badly want to be viewed by the elites as acceptable."

In my case, I was able to gain an inside glimpse into a secretive culture of professional spinners only by lying myself. I disclosed my deceptions clearly in the piece I wrote (whereas the lobbyists I met boasted of how they were able to fly under the radar screen in seeking to shape U.S. foreign policy). If readers feel uncomfortable with my methods, they're free to dismiss my findings.

Yes, undercover reporting should be used sparingly, and there are legitimate arguments to be had about when it is fair or appropriate. But I'm confident my use of it in this case was legitimate. There was a significant public interest involved, particularly given Congress' as-yet-unfulfilled promise to crack down on lobbyists in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Could I have extracted the same information and insight with more conventional journalistic methods? Impossible.

Based on the number of interview requests I've had, and the steady stream of positive e-mails I've received, I'd wager that the general public is decidedly more supportive of undercover reporting than the Washington media establishment. One person who heard me talking about the story in a TV interview wrote to urge that I never apologize for "misrepresenting yourself to a pack of thugs … especially when misrepresentation is their own stock in trade!"

I'm willing to debate the merits of my piece, but the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach. This is the group that attended the White House correspondents dinner and clapped for a rapping Karl Rove. As a class, they honor politeness over honesty and believe that being "balanced" means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth.

I'll take Nellie Bly any day.,1,6436754.story?coll=la-news-comment&ctrack=1&cset=true

Editorials Hit Libby's Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card

Editorials Hit Libby's Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card

By E&P Staff

Published: July 03, 2007 7:30 PM ET

NEW YORK The bloggers, politicians, and TV pundits weighed in quickly Monday after President Bush took the surprisingly sudden step of commuting Lewis "Scooter" Libby's 30-month prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case. Now newspaper editorials are appearing, and nearly all of them have condemned the Bush act.

First up, The New York Times and The Washington Post, which had viewed the case quite differently, each ripped the Bush move.

From the Times' Tuesday editorial: "Mr. Bush’s assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk ...

"Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush’s contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were 'harsh punishment' enough for Mr. Libby.

"Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell."

The Post, which had often mocked the court case, declares today: "We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did -- to probation and a large fine -- is not defensible. ... Mr. Bush, while claiming to 'respect the jury's verdict,' failed to explain why he moved from 'excessive' to zero.

"It's true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense."

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "President Bush's commutation of a pal's prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system. It's the latest sign of the huge repairs to American concepts of the rule of law that await the next president."

The Denver Post found that "such big-footing of other branches of government is not unprecedented with this administration. The president's abuse of signing statements show his disrespect for Congress' power to make law. His insistence that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay be denied Habeas Corpus rights mocks legal tradition. It's a shame that his actions in the Libby affair will add to that list. Libby should be held accountable for his crimes."

But The Wall Street Journal sees it differently: "By failing to issue a full pardon, Mr. Bush is evading responsibility for the role his administration played in letting the Plame affair build into fiasco and, ultimately, this personal tragedy. ... Mr. Libby deserved better from the President whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover. The consequences for the reputation of his Administration will also be long-lasting."

New York Post: "If Bush thinks such parsing will spare him the political backlash an outright pardon would produce, he's wrong. The jackals are tearing at his heels this morning -- and for doing only half the necessary job. Bush knows a pardon is warranted. He should grant it."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's editorial declares that "mostly this commutation fails on the most basic premise. There was no miscarriage of justice in Libby's conviction or his sentence. The trial amply demonstrated that he stonewalled. Like President Clinton's 11th-hour pardons of an ill-deserving few, this commutation is a travesty."

New York's Daily News: "However misbegotten was the probe by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the fact is that Libby did commit a federal crime and the fact is also that he was convicted in a court of law. Thankfully, Bush did not pardon Libby outright, but time in the slammer was in order. Sixty days, say, wouldn't have hurt the justice system a bit."

Chicago Tribune believes that "in nixing the prison term, Bush sent a terrible message to citizens and to government officials who are expected to serve the public with integrity. The way for a president to discourage the breaking of federal laws is by letting fairly rendered consequences play out, however uncomfortably for everyone involved. The message to a Scooter Libby ought to be the same as it is for other convicts: You do the crime, you do the time."

The Arizona Republic: "We thought Scooter Libby was going through the criminal justice system. Just like anyone else. Then, President Bush whipped out a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is the wrong game to play on a very public stage."

San Jose Mercury News: "Other presidents have doled out pardons and the like, usually on the way out of office. It's never pretty. But few have placed themselves above the law as Bush, Cheney and friends repeatedly have done by trampling civil liberties and denying due process. Chalk up another point for freedom. Scooter's, at least."

The Sacramento Bee: President Bush, a recent story in the Washington Post tells us, is obsessed with the question of how history will view him. He has done himself no favors on that count by commuting the prison term of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby."

The Rocky Mountain News, in the most bizarre comment, accepts the "compassion" argument and just wishes Bush had waited a little bit so his move could not be wrongly "perceived": "Bush's statement exudes compassion, and it carefully gives credit to those who criticize prison time for Libby as well as to those who defend it. But the president should have restrained his compassion -- and delayed his commutation -- for at least a few more months, lest he be perceived as subverting justice, too."

Soft on Crime

Soft on Crime

NY Times Editorial
Published: July 3, 2007

When he was running for president, George W. Bush loved to contrast his law-abiding morality with that of President Clinton, who was charged with perjury and acquitted. For Mr. Bush, the candidate, “politics, after a time of tarnished ideals, can be higher and better.”

Not so for Mr. Bush, the president. Judging from his decision yesterday to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. — who was charged with perjury and convicted — untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of his inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base.

Mr. Libby was convicted of lying to federal agents investigating the leak of the name of a covert C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson. Mrs. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, was asked to investigate a central claim in Mr. Bush’s drive to war with Iraq — whether Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Africa. Mr. Wilson concluded that Iraq had not done that and had the temerity to share those conclusions with the American public.

It seems clear from the record that Vice President Dick Cheney organized a campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson. And Mr. Libby, who was Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, was willing to lie to protect his boss.

That made Mr. Libby the darling of the right, which demanded that Mr. Bush pardon him. Those same Republicans have been rebelling against Mr. Bush, most recently on immigration reform, while Democrats in Congress have pursued an investigation into whether Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney lied about Iraq’s weapons programs.

All of this put immense pressure on the president to do something before Mr. Libby went to jail. But none of it was justification for the baldly political act of commuting his sentence.

Mr. Bush’s assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk. As governor of Texas, he was infamous for joking about the impending execution of Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who became a born-again Christian on death row. As president, he has repeatedly put himself and those on his team, especially Mr. Cheney, above the law.

Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush’s contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were “harsh punishment” enough for Mr. Libby.

Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease

A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease
Bush, Grasping for Answers and Fixated on Iraq, Remains Resolute

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 2, 2007; A01

At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.

Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I'm facing? How will history judge what we've done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?

These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation. Not generally known for intellectual curiosity, Bush is seeking out those who are, engaging in a philosophical exploration of the currents of history that have swept up his administration. For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.

These sessions, usually held in the Oval Office or the elegant living areas of the executive mansion, are never listed on the president's public schedule and remain largely unknown even to many on his staff. To some of those invited to talk, Bush seems alone, isolated by events beyond his control, with trusted advisers taking their leave and erstwhile friends turning on him.

"You think about prime ministers and presidents being surrounded by cabinet officials and aides and so forth," said Alistair Horne, a British historian who met with Bush recently. "But at the end of the day, they're alone. They're lonely. And that's what occurred to me as I was at the White House. It must be quite difficult for him to get out and about."

Friends worry about that as well. Burdened by an unrelenting war, challenged by an opposition Congress, defeated just last week on immigration, his last major domestic priority, Bush remains largely locked inside the fortress of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in the seventh year of a presidency turned sour. He still travels, making speeches to friendly audiences and attending summit meetings, such as this weekend's Kennebunkport talks with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. But he rarely goes out to dinner, and he no longer plays golf, except occasionally chipping at Camp David, where, as at his Texas ranch, he can find refuge.

"I don't know how he copes with it," said Donald Burnham Ensenat, a friend for 43 years who just stepped down as State Department protocol officer. Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), another longtime friend who once worked for Bush, said he looks worn down. "It's a marked difference in his physical appearance," Conaway said. "It's an incredibly heavy load. When you ask men and women to take risks, to send them into war knowing they might not come home, that's got to be an incredible burden to have on your shoulders."

Bush is fixated on Iraq, according to friends and advisers. One former aide went to see him recently to discuss various matters, only to find Bush turning the conversation back to Iraq again and again. He recognizes that his presidency hinges on whether Iraq can be turned around in 18 months. "Nothing matters except the war," said one person close to Bush. "That's all that matters. The whole thing rides on that."

And yet Bush does not come across like a man lamenting his plight. In public and in private, according to intimates, he exhibits an inexorable upbeat energy that defies the political storms. Even when he convenes philosophical discussions with scholars, he avoids second-guessing his actions. He still acts as if he were master of the universe, even if the rest of Washington no longer sees him that way.

"You don't get any feeling of somebody crouching down in the bunker," said Irwin M. Stelzer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who was part of one group of scholars who met with Bush. "This is either extraordinary self-confidence or out of touch with reality. I can't tell you which."
A Parade of Setbacks

The reality has been daunting by any account. No modern president has experienced such a sustained rejection by the American public. Bush's approval rating slipped below 50 percent in Washington Post-ABC News polls in January 2005 and has not topped that level in the 30 months since. The last president mired under 50 percent so long was Harry S. Truman. Even Richard M. Nixon did not fall below 50 percent until April 1973, 16 months before he resigned.

The polls reflect the events of Bush's second term, an unyielding sequence of bad news. Social Security. Hurricane Katrina. Harriet E. Miers. Dubai Ports World. Vice President Cheney's hunting accident. Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Mark Foley. The midterm elections. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Alberto R. Gonzales and Paul D. Wolfowitz. Immigration. And overshadowing it all, the Iraq war, now longer than the U.S. fight in World War II.

Since winning reelection 2 1/2 years ago, Bush has had few days of good news, and what few he has had rarely lasted. Purple-fingered Iraqis went to the polls to establish a democracy but elected a dysfunctional government riven by sectarian strife. U.S. forces hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, but the violence only worsened. Saddam Hussein was convicted, but his execution was marred by videotaped taunting. Perhaps the only unalloyed major second-term victory for Bush has been the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices who have begun to move the court to the right.

Other presidents have been crushed by the pressure. Lyndon B. Johnson was tormented by Vietnam War protesters outside his window shouting, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Nixon swam in self-pity during Watergate, talking to paintings and once asking Henry Kissinger to pray with him. Bill Clinton fumed against enemies and nursed deep grievances during his impeachment battle.

But if Bush vents like that, no one is talking. Kissinger, who advises Bush, said the president has never asked him to kneel down with him in the Oval Office. "I find him serene," Kissinger said. "I know President Johnson was railing against his fate. That's not the case with Bush. He feels he's doing what he needs to do, and he seems to me at peace with himself."

Bush has virtually given up on winning converts while in office and instead is counting on vindication after he is dead. "He almost has . . . a sense of fatalism," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who recently spent a day traveling with Bush. "All he can do is do his best, and 100 years from now people will decide if he was right or wrong. It doesn't seem to be a false, macho pride or living in your own world. I find him to be amazingly calm."

To an extent, Bush walls himself off from criticism. He does read newspapers, contrary to public impression, but watches little television news and does not linger in the media echo chamber. "He does a very good job of keeping out the extreme things in his life," Conaway, the congressman, said. "He doesn't watch Leno and Letterman. He doesn't spend a lot of time exposing himself to that sort of stuff. He has a terrific knack of not looking through the rearview mirror."

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who attended a legislative meeting with Bush last month, said his impervious nature works both ways. "The things that make him unpopular also help him deal with all the pressure," Kingston said. "He's stubborn. He's loyal to his philosophy."
Reproached by His Own

The fabled loyalty of the Bush team, though, has frayed far more than might be apparent to him. The fight over whether Gonzales should remain attorney general has exposed a deep fault line. Bush remains convinced that his old friend did nothing wrong ethically in firing U.S. attorneys, and senior adviser Karl Rove angrily rejects what he sees as a Democratic witch hunt, according to White House officials. Yet beyond the inner circle, it is hard to find a current or former administration official who thinks Gonzales should stay.

"I don't understand for the life of me why Al Gonzales is still there," said one former top aide, who, like others, would speak only on the condition of anonymity. "It's not about him. It's about the office and who's able to lead the department." The ex-aide said that every time he runs into former Cabinet secretaries, "universally the first thing out of their mouths" is bafflement that Gonzales remains.

Some aides see it as Bush refusing to accept reality. "The president thinks cutting and running on his friends shows weakness," said an exasperated senior official. "Change shows weakness. Doing what everyone knows has to be done shows weakness." Another former aide said that no matter how many people Bush consults, he heeds only two or three.

Beyond Gonzales, the discontent with the Bush presidency is broader and deeper among Republican lawmakers, some of whom seethe with anger. "Our members just wish this thing would be over," said a senior House Republican who met with Bush recently. "People are tired of him." Bush's circle remains sealed tight, the lawmaker said. "There's nobody there who can stand up to him and tell him, 'Mr. President, you've got to do this. You're wrong on this.' There's no adult supervision. It's like he's oblivious. Maybe that's a defense mechanism."

Aides said they do challenge Bush. White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten had what one colleague called "a lot of hard discussions" with the president after the November midterm elections to shock him into recognizing that his approach to Iraq had failed. Bolten set up meetings so Bush could hear from critics of his policy and sent him written material to emphasize the need for change, the colleague said. That led to the decision to send more troops.

Even if he tries to avoid the media surround sound, Bush cannot help running into criticism. A group of moderate House Republicans bluntly told him during a recent White House meeting that he had become a drag on the party. And when the president invited conservative radio host Laura Ingraham for a bike ride last month, she upbraided him for his position on immigration.

Bush's unpopularity appears to impose limits on where he goes. He turned down an invitation from the Washington Nationals to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, pleading a busy schedule. The former baseball team owner instead hosted an invitation-only ceremony for a college football team in the East Room, where no one would boo. When commencement season rolled around, he stayed away from major universities, delivering addresses at a community college in Florida and a small religious school in Pennsylvania run by a former aide. And even then he was met by student and faculty protests.
Seeking History's Lessons

Amid the tumult, the president has sought refuge in history. He read three books last year on George Washington, read about the Algerian war of independence and the exploitation of Congo, and lately has been digging into "Troublesome Young Men," Lynne Olson's account of Conservative backbenchers who thrust Winston Churchill to power. Bush idolizes Churchill and keeps a bust of him in the Oval Office.

After reading Andrew Roberts's "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900," Bush brought in the author and a dozen other scholars to talk about the lessons. "What can I learn from history?" Bush asked Roberts, according to Stelzer, the Hudson Institute scholar, who participated.

Stelzer said Bush seemed smarter than he expected. The conversation ranged from history to religion and touched on sensitive topics for a president wrestling with his legacy. "He asked me, 'Do you think our unpopularity abroad is a result of my personality?' And he laughed," Stelzer recalled. "I said, 'In part.' And he laughed again."

Much of the discussion focused on the nature of good and evil, a perennial theme for Bush, who casts the struggle against Islamic extremists in black-and-white terms. Michael Novak, a theologian who participated, said it was clear that Bush weathers his difficulties because he sees himself as doing the Lord's work.

"His faith is very strong," said Novak, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Faith is not enough by itself because there are a lot of people who have faith but weak hearts. But his faith is very strong. He seeks guidance, like every other president does, in prayer. And that means trying to be sure he's doing the right thing. And if you've got that set, all the criticism, it doesn't faze you very much. You're answering to God."

Horne, the British historian, found himself with Bush on another occasion after Kissinger gave the president "A Savage War of Peace," Horne's book on the French defeat in Algeria in the mid-20th century. Bush invited Horne to visit. They talked about the parallels and differences between Algeria and Iraq as Bush sought insight he could apply to his own situation.

Horne said he is not a Bush supporter but was nonetheless struck by the president's tranquility. "He was very friendly, very relaxed," Horne said. "My God, he looked well. He looked like he came off a cruise in the Caribbean. He looked like he hadn't a care in the world. It was amazing."
Loyalists Lost

As Bush heads toward the twilight of his presidency, the White House feels increasingly empty. One after another, aides who have stuck with him are heading out the door. Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff for more than five years, stepped down last year. And now counselor Dan Bartlett, an aide for 14 years, is leaving.

Card and Bartlett were the aides who spent the most time at Bush's side. Bolten, Card's replacement, and Ed Gillespie, Bartlett's successor, each decided not to devote as much time to "body duty," leaving the president without their constant presence. Others who have left have publicly castigated the president. Bush was particularly hurt, friends said, when reelection strategist Matthew Dowd disavowed him.

Bush seeks solace in his oldest friends from Texas and Yale University, hosting an annual summer picnic and a Christmas party. He invites friends to the White House or the ranch in Crawford. But those experiences are strangely impersonal. "It can be kind of clinical," said a friend who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. "You're in there and in that event it's all very controlled -- you come in for drinks at 7, you have dinner at 7:30 and by 9 you're back at your hotel."

Bush rarely leaves the White House for social outings in Washington, though lately he has tried to get out more, attending dinners last month at the homes of two old friends, attorney Jim Langdon and budget aide Clay Johnson III. Bush avoids politics in such moments. He reaches out for signs of normalcy, asking about business or mutual friends. "He wants to know if we've caught any fish," said Robert McCleskey, a friend since grade school.

Bush also deals with stress through discipline, routine and exercise. On a typical day, he wakes at 5 a.m., arrives at the Oval Office at 6:30, then leaves at 4:30 p.m. for a 60-minute workout. He returns to work for a while before retiring to the residence, where he turns in at 9:30. On weekends, he favors two-hour biking sessions at a Secret Service facility in Beltsville with companions such as Card or Alexander Ellis IV, a young cousin.

Friends say this does not make him ignorant of his troubles. "There isn't any doubt that he is totally and completely aware of all the existing circumstances around him," said a close friend. "There's not anything that he's not aware of -- how he's perceived, how his people are perceived, the problems his people have. He is the furthest thing from oblivious. . . . Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a pretty complete autopsy."

Yet Bush can seem disengaged. When he flew to New York to visit a Harlem school and promote his education program, he brought along New York congressmen on Air Force One, including Democrat Charles B. Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The White House was in the midst of tough negotiations with Rangel over trade pacts. But Bush did not try to cut a deal with Rangel, chatting instead about baseball. "He talked a lot about the Rangers," Rangel said. "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about."

Still, that trip demonstrated that Bush cannot escape his burdens. King, the GOP congressman, introduced him backstage to a soldier injured in one eye. Bush teared up and asked the young man to take off his dark glasses so he could see the wound, King recalled. "Human instinct is when someone has a serious injury to look the other way," King said. "He actually asked him to take them off. He actually touched the eye a little. It was almost as if he felt he had to confront it."

As they headed back to Washington a few hours later, with the televisions aboard Air Force One tuned to the New York Mets game, King mused that Bush must be feeling the weight of his office.

"My wife loves you, but she doesn't know how you don't wake up every morning and say, 'I've had it. I'm out of here,' " King told him.

"She thinks that?" Bush replied. "Get her on the phone."

King dialed but got voice mail. Bush left a message: "I'm doing okay. Don't worry about me."