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Troubling Signal Seen as Trump Pardons Cheney Sidekick Scooter Libby

"The audience here is Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and a slew of other people who can incriminate Trump."

Lewis 'Scooter' Libby speaks during a discussion at the Hudson Institute March 29, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Lewis 'Scooter' Libby speaks during a discussion at the Hudson Institute March 29, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump pardoned Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Friday.

Libby was chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney and was convicted in 2007 of lying under oath and obstruction of justice during the investigation into the leaking of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband , an ambassador, challenged the Bush-Cheney narrative for invading Iraq. Bush later commuted Libby's sentence.

"Perjury before a grand jury is a pardonable offense. Hint hint .... Mueller investigation witnesses now hear that message loud and clear."
—ethics expert Richard Painter
Of note is that that investigation was led by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey. As such, journalist Matthew Cooper argued on Twitter, a pardon for Libby "is a slap at Comey."

However, the bigger picture, according to observers, may be the message Trump is sending to those who have, or might be tempted, to obstruct justice on his benefit.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said on Twitter that it "seems like [Trump's] sending a message to current WH staff worried about investigation of Trump obstruction: 'Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.'"

That assessment was echoed by former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, who tweeted: "Perjury before a grand jury is a pardonable offense. Hint hint .... Mueller investigation witnesses now hear that message loud and clear."

"This pardon is purely symbolic," writes journalist Marcy Wheeler. "I'm sure Libby's happy to have it, but the audience here is [former Trump campaign chairman] Paul Manafort, [Trump's personal lawyer] Michael Cohen, and a slew of other people who can incriminate Trump."

Cohen and Manafort are among those swept up in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign and alleged Russian election interference.

At the same time, Wheeler writes, "This won't be one (Manafort) or two (Cohen) people Trump has to pardon. And THEY DON'T KNOW the full scope of who Trump would have to pardon here."

But if Trump is suggesting pardons are in the wings, that could prove costly. "Three sources familiar with the investigation," NBC News reported Thursday,

said the findings Mueller has collected on Trump's attempts to obstruct justice include: His intent to fire former FBI Director James Comey; his role in the crafting of a misleading public statement on the nature of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians; Trump's dangling of pardons before grand jury witnesses who might testify against him; and pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump, for his part, tweeted Friday that Comey "is a weak and untruthful slime ball" and "a proven LEAKER & LIAR" who "should be prosecuted."

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