In his press conference today, Harry Reid said, “I think the president should come forward now and say he's not going to pardon anybody.”
Not a moment too soon, because the conventional wisdom on Scooter Libby being pardoned is already starting to congeal:
“The president is going to pardon Scooter Libby,” Paul Begala predicted on CNN after Libby’s arraignment. “He’s going to plead guilty and then Bush is going to pardon him.”
This, apparently, is a bipartisan belief. “Ultimately,” said conservative Republican lawyer Joe diGenova, “President Bush is going to pardon Libby anyway.”
There you have it. According to the pundits, a pardon is a done deal. All that’s up for grabs is the timing.
Will it be after Scooter changes his plea to guilty, thus pulling the plug on a trial -- and robbing us of the pleasure of seeing Dick Cheney on the stand, under oath, being grilled on WMD, aluminum tubes, the WHIG, and the campaign to smear Joe Wilson? Or will Bush follow in the footsteps of his father’s pardon of Cap Weinberger, and give Libby his presidential Stay Out of Jail Free card preemptively, before he even has to admit to any wrongdoing?
Of course, there is a third option: Bush assenting to Reid’s request and taking the pardon option off the table. That would be the best way to offer the American people the chance to finally learn the truth -- which after all, is what the president has repeatedly said he is after. “I want to know the truth,” said Bush in September 2003, when the leak story first hit the headlines. “No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States,” reiterated Scott McClellan this summer.
Good to know. Then he should have no problem promising not to pardon Libby.
I hear that a number of powerful Democratic senators are working behind the scenes on a plan to force the issue. According to Democratic Party sources, Hillary Clinton, as well as Reid, among others, are trying to put together a strongly worded letter to the president, calling on him to publicly pledge that he will not pardon Libby. The hope is to have the letter signed by all 44 Democratic senators.
A unanimous showing would be great, but the letter should go out even if there are a few holdouts. It would be a strong follow-up to last week’s Senate shut down, and keep the focus on Plamegate and the questions surrounding the run up to the war that are at the heart of the scandal. Did you notice how many of the Sunday show interviews focused on questions of Phase II and pre-war intel? Let the GOP flacks criticize Reid’s extraordinary measure all they want. These are extraordinary times demanding extraordinary measures, and when, pray, was the last time the Dems successfully framed the debate on Iraq?
They need to keep the pressure up by beating the No Pardon Pledge drum.
Pardon PS Remember the outrage surrounding Bill Clinton’s last minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich? (For a quick refresher, here are two columns I wrote about it at the time.) What you may not remember is that one of Rich lawyers involved in the pardon was -- that’s right -- Scooter Libby. So he knows a thing or two about how the game is played. And, from the Small World Department, it’s worth noting that among those decrying the Rich pardon back in 2001 but defending the lawyers who helped him obtain it was none other than Joe diGenova (who is married to Victoria Toensing, who has been all over the Plamegate story as one of the authors of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act -- and a staunch Libby defender).
Pardon PPS Libby has hired a legal team that includes Theodore Wells and William Jeffress, two prominent criminal lawyers with a reputation for playing hardball in the defense of their high-profile clients. Word is they are going to start asking for access to a lot of sensitive documents. Will this increase the pressure on the White House to consider a preemptive pardon? On the other hand, during Libby’s arraignment Jeffress told the judge that there may be “protracted litigation” about access to classified information -- leaving the impression that they could try to string the case along until, say, near the end of Bush term when a pardon would have less of a political impact. In any case, Libby’s judge has set a Feb. 3 conference with Libby’s lawyers to discuss the possibility that some of the proceedings might have to occur outside of public view. That’s three months from now. In other words, file the Libby case under Slow Grinding Wheels of Justice and get ready for a long, hard legal slog.
Pardon PPPS Speaking of long, hard slogs: when Bush I pardoned Weinberger on the eve of his 1992 trial on charges that he had lied to Congress about Iran/Contra, it was six years after the scandal broke. Six years! In his pardon announcement, Bush I praised Weinberger as “a true American patriot” who “has rendered long and extraordinary service to our country”. Bush II used strikingly similar language when he accepted Libby’s resignation on October 28: “Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country.” Was he sending Cheney’s Cheney a not-so-subtle message: “Hang in there, and, when the time comes, I’ll do what needs to be done”? Is “service to this country” the new “they turn in clusters”?
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