So Much for the Rule of Law

By Margie Burns

The policy-makers in the Bush administration have had two main opponents from the first: the will of the people, and the rule of law. Every significant political, legal and economic course of action chosen by the policy-making echelons has reflected an awareness of this simple, valid proposition that the main checks to power, including their power, are the will of the people and the rule of law.

The president has taken steps accordingly. Nowhere is this awareness more visible than in the president's commutation on July 2, 2007, of the sentence meted out to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney.

The official Statement by the President on Executive Clemency for Lewis Libby reads in part,

"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."

Libby was actually sentenced to four prison terms, one for each count on which the jury found him guilty. The judge set the terms to run concurrently with each other: Libby received a sentence of 30 months for Count 1, obstruction of justice; six months for Count 2, making false statements to investigators; 24 months for Count 4, perjury (making false declarations to the grand jury); and 15 months for Count 5, also perjury before the grand jury. Judge Walton had already in effect reduced the possible prison time by making the sentences concurrent, a fact not acknowledged in the White House statements. However, Bush was clearly aware of it: while the official statement of explanation does not mention the concurrent terms, Bush's Grant of Executive Clemency itself is careful to commute all of Libby's prison sentences:

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, pursuant to my powers under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, do hereby commute the prison terms imposed by the sentence upon the said Lewis Libby to expire immediately, leaving intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence."

The statement that Bush commuted Libby's sentence because he found it "excessive" is transparently untruthful. A president has the power to commute part or all of a sentence, not just all or nothing. If Bush had thought that 30 months was excessive, he could have commuted it to two years, or to a year and a half, or to one year. He could have drastically commuted the sentence to six months, or to three months.

Instead the White House has attempted to frame the jury's verdict, reflecting the law-and-order stance taken by a largely Republican jury, against the judge's prison sentence, reflecting the equally law-and-order stance of a Republican judge who happens to be African-American. It thus throws a sop to the racist base -- probably Bush's only remaining 'base' at this stage -- and to the rightwing "noise machine," which has not refrained from attacking the courts and the federal judge in the case, as well as the excellent prosecution.

The White House statements do not acknowledge that the sentence imposed on Libby fell well within federal sentencing guidelines, no longer mandatory.

Bush's abrupt and hasty commutation -- explicitly reflecting on the judge's ruling -- comes particularly ill so soon after Judge Walton's quiet in-court comments that he has received hate mail and aggressive phone calls since the Libby sentence, including some "wishing bad things on me or my family." -- "At first I threw them away," Walton went on at the June 14 bail hearing, "but then I got more letters, even more hateful than the others." So now "I'm preserving them -- in the event that something does happen [some harm]" -- the perps can be caught.

Meanwhile, Bush's finance-sector friends are donating in a major way at all-time-high record levels to Barack Obama, who is cleaning up not only among young, enthusiastic new voters -- but also among financial corporations like Citigroup, who were Bush's biggest supporters in 2000. The simple, Occam's-razor explanation for these donations is that they are an early effort by basically GOP interest groups to influence Democratic primaries. In other words, they donate not because most of their well-heeled donors are either African-American or lifelong converts to racial equality -- they're not -- but because they are convinced that Obama cannot win in the general election. They might be right, too. After all, they know their own "base" best.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2007

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