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Commutation as Cover-Up

Martha Stewart vs. Scooter Libby

by JACOB HORNBERGER

Not surprisingly, President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence to ensure that he doesn’t have to serve one day in jail. While Bush undoubtedly would have desired to wait until after the November 2008 elections to pardon Libby, the U.S. Court of Appeals put the quietus to that hope by refusing to delay Libby’s incarceration pending the outcome of his appeal. Thus, Bush’s timetable for keeping Libby happy was accelerated. My hunch is that Bush will still issue a full pardon just before leaving office in January 2009.

The order of clemency serves a valuable function, the same function that the pardons that Bush’s father issued in the Iran-Contra scandal served: it buys a virtual guarantee of silence.

Recall the Watergate scandal. If the presiding judge in that case, Judge Sirica, had not imposed high sentences on the Watergate burglars, the probability is that the scandal would never have been uncovered. Faced with the prospect of going to jail for many years, some of the Watergate burglars began cooperating with the prosecutors by disclosing the criminal wrongdoing within the Nixon administration.

If Libby conspired with other high U.S. officials (e.g., Vice President Cheney) to commit perjury in the Plame case, what happened in Watergate is now unlikely to happen here. With Bush’s order, Libby has little incentive to cooperate with the prosecutors if there was in fact a conspiracy to commit perjury.

Bush said that the only reason for his order of commutation was that Libby’s sentence was too long, despite the fact that a 2-year sentence for perjury by a high federal official doesn’t seem inordinately high. By commuting the sentence to 0 time in jail, Bush is effectively saying that any time in jail for perjury is too much time. Oh? What about Martha Stewart, Mr. Bush? She received a 5-month sentence for lying to a federal official. Why didn’t you commute her sentence to 0 time in jail? If you thought her sentence was fair, then why didn’t you at least match Libby’s sentence to hers?

And while we’re on the subject of excessive sentences, what about the cruel and harsh sentences given to drug offenders? Why not commute those, Mr. Bush? After all, you and other government officials have destroyed people’s lives with your multi-year sentences arising out of your silly, nonsensical, never-ending, fruitless war on drugs. For example, consider the case of Anthony Papa, a 29-year-old father who was made to serve 12 years for delivering a $500 package of cocaine in a federal sting operation. Whose rights did he violate, Mr. Bush? And he’s just one example. There are tens of thousands of others who are rotting their lives away in prisons all across the land because of the beloved and failed war on drug. Why not commute their sentences too?

Let’s face it: There are two sets of justice in this country–one for the federal elite and the other for the private-sector peons whose labor, ironically, provides the tax-paid sustenance by which the federal sector survives and thrives.

JACOB HORNBERGER is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.