President Bush commuted the 30 month jail sentence given to "Scooter" Libby shortly after Libby's last appeal was denied. Libby was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors investigating the leak of a covert CIA agent's identity. It is believed he lied to obfuscate Vice-President Cheney's involvement in the leak; Libby was Cheney's chief-of-staff at the time. Previously he was the author of a novel involving bestiality, rape, necrophilia and sex behind bars.
Bush's clemency statement explains that he feels the sentence doled out by the judge was excessive. Judge Reggie Walton, a Bush appointee, sentenced Libby to 30 months in jail followed by 2 years of probation and a $250,000 fine. The probation and fine will remain in place.
A 1915 Supreme Court case found that accepting a pardon is an acknowledgment of guilt, and admitting guilt is generally a requirement of an application for any form of clemency. In principle then, Libby's acceptance of this commutation should end his protestations of innocence.
Bush's statement did not comment on why Libby's sentence was excessive while the long jail sentences for non-violent drug offenders did not deserve the application of Presidential clemency, a power that the Founding Fathers referred to as the "benign prerogative," and is hard to square with his history of mockery and serial indifference to death row inmates as governor of Texas. Nor did he clarify why Libby did not have to wait the customary 5 years before his application for a pardon was considered. Libby is only the 118th person to receive a pardon or commutation from the current President Bush. A 1994 study by the Justice Department concluded that almost a quarter of the federal prison population consisted of "low-level" drug offenders; their average sentence was 85 months. Other groups have estimated that between a third and half of prisoners at all levels are non-violent drug offenders. Most are sentenced to much more than 33 months in prison.
That is exactly what I was thinking: how is 30 months for obstructing justice in a high level corruption case worse than many years for getting caught with pot? Could it because most of those low level drug offenders are black (not to mention that Bush is obviously protecting his own)?
Corruption and national security verging on treason!
Of course, Bush is protecting his own, and doing so in a brutally transparent way. That wouldn't necessarily mean he was wrong, though, about the sentence being excessive. He could only justify that claim in the context of the sentences regularly handed out for low-level drug possession charges. We won't even get into the blatantly racist divide between crack and cocaine sentences. At least a court is finally considering whether that inequity constitutes a violation of civil rights.
I honestly don't understand why the President has this power to begin with. For my money the dangers of it being abused far outweigh the perceived benefits, and all it says is that the President - and whoever he deems fit - is above the law. We can see that in the pardons after the Iran-Contra affair.
There is a justice system for everybody, and it's there for a reason. Everyone should be subjected to it and no one should be above it, especially those with power.
If Libby and others felt the sentence was excessive...well that's why there's an appeals process.
It's so frustrating when politicians blatantly lie and break the law - everyone knows it's happening - and nothing can be done about it because there is no accountability. Then just when it seems there's some small amount of justice served, they twist and turn and get off scott free again.
Bob Geiger has an interesting article at SmirkingChimp, highlighting Brownback's smarmy indignation over the proper punishment for perjury by a Democrat and his current silence about Scooter's liberation.
Too bad he didn't get the chance to experience a little "research" for another book. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.