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

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

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E&P staffwriters

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.

0703 05First 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."

San Francisco Chronicle: "In commuting the sentence of former White House aide Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, President Bush sent the message that perjury and obstruction of justice in the service of the president of the United States are not serious 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 Dallas Morning News: "Perhaps the president felt he had nothing left to lose, given his unpopularity. But considering how much trouble the White House faces in regard to congressional subpoenas, the last thing this president needed was to further antagonize Capitol Hill regarding abuse of executive power."

The Rocky Mountain News, in Denver, 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."

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