Scooter Libby

Scooter scoots

W gives him 'get-out-of-jail-free' card

Make no mistake: Scooter should have done time. But by only commuting Scooter's jail sentence, Bush made an understandable compromise. Like almost all compromises, it will leave almost everybody unhappy:

  • Scooter won't be happy because he's still a convicted felon, and his career as an attorney comes to a screeching, and appropriate, halt
  • Cheney, Scooter's patron, won't be happy because Scooter still gets punished somewhat for telling big lies to protect Cheney, who is clearly behind the whole sordid episode
  • The hard right won't be happy because they see Scooter's conviction as a terrible miscarriage of justice and think Bush should have given Scooter a full pardon
  • The hard left won't be happy because they see Bush's commutation as a terrible miscarriage of justice and as yet another example of a complete absence of accountability among the Bushies and of their obvious belief that the Law is only for other folks
  • The vast middle won't be happy because they are already alienated by what they see happening in Washington and feel helpless to stop it

The pressure on Bush to grant a full pardon must have been intense, especially from Cheney. We'll probably never know, of course, because Cheney has mastered the art of never leaving a fingerprint. Bush was truly between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Scooter's lies thwarted prosecutor Fitgerald's attempts to unravel the web of deceptions leading to the Iraq war, the threads of which would surely have led to Cheney and the White House. Bush has to be grateful to Scooter for holding off the day of reckoning — at least for the time being. On the other hand, a full pardon would have certainly "emboldened the enemy" (non-Bushies) and intensified pressure and rage against a weakened presidency already in a defensive crouch. The prospect of spending the last eighteen months of his presidency fighting off investigations aimed at discovering what has really gone on must be daunting indeed. Although it's probably futile — the truth will come out eventually — the Bushies are forced to keep trying to plug the leaks that keep springing in the dikes. In the end, Bush's grand compromise won't make him happy either.

We should certainly not feel too sorry for Scooter and his lovely family. Among the ranks of the die-hard conservatives there will be all too many who will be willing to provide Scooter with plenty of job opportunities. The Bush and Cheney tentacles have a very long reach, and we can be sure Scooter will be well taken care of. He knows too much not to do so.

Nor should we waste our energy being angry at Bush. What he did is all of a piece with almost everything else: too little, too late. Too little to really help Scooter. Too late to stave off the inexorable demand for accountability.

Closing arguments (Click picture for larger view)
Robert Novak Robert Novak, the one who published the leak

In closing arguments, prosecutors drew a compelling picture of Libby at the center of a concerted campaign of leaks to discredit and quiet administration critics. Sadly, Robert Novak, whose column was the tip of the iceberg, did get off scot-free, and is happily plying his trade once again.

To be sure, it's cold comfort knowing that historians will one day shine light on this whole disgraceful period. It would be so much more satisfying to see the "perp walk" into prison. Now that would truly be cause for celebration! The only better cause would be to see Cheney himself finally brought to justice!