Scooter who? I’m certain this is how many people reacted. His full name is I. Lewis Libby, but he goes by the name of Scooter Libby.
Now a bit of background on pardons. The US Constitution gives the president the authority to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone he wants. A person does not necessarily have to be convicted of a crime to be pardoned. A list of each president and the number of people whose sentences were reduced or pardon, is given in the links below. People can be guilty as hell, and still get pardon. Even before someone is charged with a crime, they can be pardoned. President Madison pardoned Pierre LaFitte because he helped Andrew Jackson, during the war of 1812. Andrew Johnson who succeeded Lincoln, granted a full and unconditional pardon and amnesty to all former Confederates of the rebellion on Christmas Day 1868. Johnson also commuted the sentence of 3 convicted conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination.
More recently, President Nixon commuted the sentence of Jimmy Hoffa, the famous corrupt union boss, who subsequently vanished (likely murdered by others in the mob) in 1962. President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974. I believe President Ford was right. Nixon would have been charged with obstruction of justice. It wasn’t the Watergate break in but the cover up, backed up by Oval office audio recordings that helped seal Nixon’s fate. Nixon was the only president to be pardon. Ford also provided a full restoration of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee, who lead the confederate forces during the civil war about 110 years after the fact. President Carter granted amnesty to Vietnam war draft resisters, so he clearly is the record holder for pardons. Carter also commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Libby, involved in the Watergate break in.
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Then there was the billionaire Marc Rich pardon on Clinton’s last day in office. The pardon raise criticism from many, including the New York Times, that rich people can buy their way out of trouble, through charitable or political contributions. In 1983, Rich and partner Pincus Green were indicted on 65 criminal counts, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran during the oil embargo (at a time when Iranian revolutionaries were still holding American citizens hostage). However, Rich’s activities during the oil embargo benefited Israel, as he was able to supply them with oil, with the help of Mossad, Israel intelligence unit. The indictment was filed by then-U.S. Federal Prosecutor (and future mayor of New York City) Rudy Giuliani. At the time it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history. Rich fled to Switzerland which refused to extradite Rich for what the they considered were tax crimes. Rich died in 2013 in Lucerne, Switzerland.
I bring up Marc Rich’s case, because it would be used, many times, to support the idea of corruption through the use of pardons. An original “Pay to Play” scheme. Rich was an oil commodities broker, and made a fortune buying crude oil from Iraq and Iran, during the 1973 to 1974 Arab Oil Embargo. Rich’s ex-wife, Denise had donated over a million dollars to the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton didn’t get quite as much, with a donation from Denise on the order of $70,00 to $100,000 (See Wikipedia link). I won’t go into the long controversial Rich saga, but other tax experts claimed that Rich’s company was in fact, a Swiss company, so the RICO Act (racketeering law) was improperly applied in Rich’s violation of the embargo rules. According to Wikipedia:
In a February 18, 2001 op-ed essay in The New York Times, Clinton (by then out of office) explained why he had pardoned Rich, noting that U.S. tax professors Bernard Wolfman of the Harvard Law School and Martin Ginsburg of Georgetown University Law Center had concluded that no crime had been committed, and that Rich’s companies’ tax-reporting position had been reasonable. In the same essay, Clinton listed Lewis “Scooter” Libby as one of three “distinguished Republican lawyers” who supported a pardon for Rich.
Scooter Libby was one of Marc Rich’s lawyers. It was Eric Holder as Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General who signed off on the pardon. James Comey was US Attorney for the Southern District of New York in January 2002, and was critical of the pardon (page 159 of his new book). Comey inherited an investigation into the pardon, as it had the appearance of a corrupt bargain. There wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges. Comey suggests it’s possible that Hillary Clinton as a junior senator, might have been reluctant to meet with him in 2002, due to his involvement in this investigation. He also suggests that it’s likely simply a scheduling problem. He states this more as an aside, in discussing Clinton email investigation, which began on July 6, 2015.
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I digress. Now, back to the Trump pardon. In the Bush administration, Scooter Libby held three positions from 2001 to 2005: Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs and Chief of Staff to the Vice President and Assistant to the President. He was Vice President Dick Cheney’s right hand man, by all accounts, interacting with Departments of State, Justice and Defense.
The Trump pardon changed nothing for Scooter Libby. It seemed directed at conservative Republicans, particularly those who felt Libby had been a victim of an overzealous special prosecutor, some 15 years ago. Does this sound familiar?
A jury convicted Libby of obstruction of justice and perjury in his grand jury testimony and making false statements to federal investigators about when and how he learned that Plame was a CIA agent.The crime occurred in 2003, and the appeals were exhausted by 2007 at which point he received a partial pardon from President Bush. Bush stated:
“Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison. My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.”
Many in government including Vice President Cheney, wanted a full pardon. More over, I’m certain others wanted to lay blame for Libby’s problems to an over zealous Special Prosecutor, named Patrick Fitzpatrick and to blame the justice system. Bush broke with Cheney on this one.
Fifteen years later, as it seemed everything was back to normal. As consequence of his conviction, Libby’s license to practice law was suspended until being reinstated in 2016. The judge had wide leeway in sentencing Libby, but he could have been given up to 25 years and fined one million dollars. He was sentenced to 30 months in jail, but President Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s jail sentence, resulting in 2 years on probation and a $250,000 file.
All this occurred as a result of the “Valerie Plame affair” in which a columnist, Robert Novak, revealed that she was a CIA agent. I won’t go into the detail on the Scooter Libby’s case, however it is part of James Comey’s new book, “A Higher Loyalty” as he was assigned to the case, as a US Attorney. Comey’s book came out about 4 days after Trump’s pardon, so Comey had no clue that Libby would be pardoned. This was a case of at least 3 leakers, within the Bush administration: Karl Rove, Richard Armitage and Scooter Libby. However, Libby compounded his problems by lying to the FBI. Libby told investigators it was Tim Russert, the NBC Washington bureau chief which informed him that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. They knew Libby had committed a crime which the Justice Department could prove to a jury.
Comey explains that the case against Rove and Armitage was weak, as disclosure of a covert intelligence agent requires proof of specific and evil intent, not just idle gossip. To avoid an apparent conflict of interest, Comey appointed a special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Right now, Patrick Fitzgerald is part of James Comey’s legal advisers and saw Comey’s note on a White House meeting after he was fired.
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Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby on April 13, 2018 based on a Department of Justice recommendation. As I said at the outset, it change little for Scooter Libby. However, what I find particularly offensive, was Trump’s call to Libby’s lawyer, where Trump told her that Libby had been “screwed by the courts.” Libby’s victim, Valerie Plame, got it right, as she responded:
“This is definitely not about me. It’s absolutely not about Scooter Libby. This is about Donald Trump and his future,” Plame said before the formal announcement hit. “It’s very clear that this is a message he’s sending that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned, so I think he’s got an audience of three right now. That would be Manafort, Flynn and Kushner, and perhaps others.”
“The message being sent is you can commit perjury and I will pardon you if it protects me and I deem that you are loyal to me,” she added.
Carter’s pardon stopped further court cases against draft dodgers during the Vietnam war, but excluded anyone who had previously been convicted. Exactly how many draft dodgers might have been caught and brought to justice, and what punishment would have been given, is really anyone’s guess.