'L.A.Times': Libby Sentence Was Far From 'Excessive'

By: E&P Staff A Los Angeles Times report on Wednesday challenges President Bush's claim that the 30-month prison sentence for "Scooter" Libby, now commuted, in the CIA leak case was "excessive."

Records cited by the paper "show that the Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby's. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice ? one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March ? got some prison time. According to federal data, the average sentence defendants received for that charge alone was 70 months.

"Just last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 33-month prison sentence for a decorated Army veteran who was convicted of lying to a federal agent about buying a machine gun. The veteran had a record of public service ? fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War ? and no criminal record. But Justice Department lawyers argued his prison term should stand because it fit within the federal sentencing guidelines."

Separately, The Times, one of the few major papers to not carry an editorial on the case on Tuesday, weighed in Wednesday, and like nearly all of the others (beyond the Wall Street Journal and New York Post) it hit the Bush decision.

Here is an excerpt.

President Bush's carefully calibrated decision to commute the prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby without granting a pardon may prove politically wise. But it epitomizes the moral obtuseness that has so handicapped his administration....

No meaningful investigation is possible if high-placed people can get away with lying to investigators. And prison time is the only meaningful deterrent to perjury by the rich and powerful.

Bush's presidential statement brushes aside the enormity of the offenses that merited such a sentence: perjury in an attempt to obstruct a national security investigation. In order to convict Libby, the jury had to conclude not only that he knowingly and repeatedly lied to the FBI and to a grand jury, but that he leaked classified information about a CIA operative to reporters on orders from Vice President Dick Cheney. Such obstruction and obfuscation are particularly heinous offenses when committed by a senior government official ? and a lawyer, no less ? to serve or protect his boss.

The larger problem in commuting Libby's sentence is the message it sends to his unfortunately unindicted co-conspirator, Cheney. The message isn't precisely, as the Democrats claim, that the administration in general, and the vice president and his office in particular, are above the law. It is that the laws can always be finagled so as not to apply unfavorably to them. ...

That Cheney and his backers managed to obtain a presidential commutation before Libby served even a Paris Hilton-sized stint behind bars reinforces the perception of favoritism. Bush's refusal to rule out a pardon for Libby makes things worse.

Presidential pardons can correct miscarriages of justice; they can even serve political goals if those goals coincide with a broader national interest. This was President Ford's justification for his pardon of President Nixon. But the national interest is damaged when pardons are used to spare erring political loyalists. The Fourth of July language in the presidential statement did not disguise the corruption of a fundamental American value: that all must be equal before the law.


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