Crime and a Lack of Punishment

by Jeff Fleischer

(BuzzFlash, June 28, 2007)


Two cases of crime and a lack of punishment: one gets huge headlines featuring a hotel heiress (whom we already know). Receiving much less attention at the same time was the inherently more serious case of Lewis “Scooter” Libby and the concerted efforts of various right-wing pundits to lobby the president for a pardon. Granted, Libby has never released a sex tape (and here’s hoping he never does) or appeared on “The Simple Life” (ditto), but the legal drama he currently stars in has real consequences for the rule of law and government accountability.

Libby endangered this nation’s security through his role in helping expose covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, obstructing a criminal investigation, and generally valuing loyalty to the administration more than loyalty to the nation.

At best, the outing of both Plame and Brewster Jennings & Associates – the CIA front group that began operation in 1994 – disrupted the agents’ critical work on weapons proliferation (an issue that, in a 2004 debate, both George Bush and John Kerry called the greatest threat facing America). At worst, it exposed the identities and endangered the lives of “Brewster” contacts in some of the world’s most dangerous intelligence missions.

That hasn’t stopped some on the right from taking up Libby’s cause. On the day of his conviction, Fox News’ notorious newscrawl asked “Was a crime even committed?” during trial coverage. That argument has had another revival in recent days. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol similarly beat the pardon drum in a June 18 opinion piece, calling Libby’s conviction and even his prosecution “unfair and vindictive.”

In the June 5 debate between the Republican presidential candidates, alleged “law and order” candidate Rudy Giuliani said he’d consider a pardon and parroted the talking point that “there was no underlying crime involved.” Mitt Romney – after noting that he never pardoned anyone while governor of Massachusetts out of his respect for jury decisions – said he, too, was open to the idea. Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo were far less equivocal, fully endorsing a pardon.

To their credit, Rep. Ron Paul and former Gov. Jim Gilmore chose to side with the rule of law. As Gilmore later put it, “If the public believes there’s one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system.”

Not surprisingly, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post typifies the double standard in coverage of Paris Hilton and Libby. The paper’s editorial board cheered Hilton’s re-incarceration after house arrest, dubbing it “the kind of turnstile justice we like” and running an accompanying graphic of Hilton behind bars. Of course, the very same board came out strongly in favor of a Libby pardon in a staff editorial and – never missing a chance to back some ill-advised preemption – even suggested Bush should have pardoned Libby before he went to trial.

As for the president himself, he’s been oddly silent on the Libby issue so far.

“Ultimately, the buck stops with President Bush,” DNC chairman Howard Dean said when the Libby verdict was announced back in March. “While he failed to keep his promise to fire the leaker, he should pledge not to pardon Scooter Libby.”

Otherwise, the Libby case will again prove you don’t need to be a drunken socialite to get out of jail early. He just won’t be the butt of as many late-night monologue jokes.

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