Bush’s Arguments on Libby Make No Sense

Instead of that more straightforward statement, Adam Liptak’s NYT article on the subject goes under the headline of “Bush Rationale on Libby Stirs Legal Debate.” Here is a part of it:

Given the administration’s tough stand on sentencing, the president’s arguments left experts in sentencing law scratching their heads.

“The Bush administration, in some sense following the leads of three previous administrations, has repeatedly supported a federal sentencing system that is distinctly disrespectful of the very arguments that Bush has put forward in cutting Libby a break,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who writes the blog Sentencing Law and Policy.

Perhaps inadvertently, Mr. Bush’s decision to grant a commutation rather than an outright pardon has started a national conversation about sentencing generally.

“By saying that the sentence was excessive, I wonder if he understood the ramifications of saying that,” said Ellen S. Podgor, who teaches criminal law at Stetson University in St. Petersburg, Fla. “This is opening up a can of worms about federal sentencing.”

Yes, I wonder. Based on watching his comments today, I have a feeling Bush might not be so conversant in the federal sentencing system. (Nice touch being at Walter Reed to discuss this.) Tony Snow did his best to obfuscate matters at the press briefing too. Rather than “stirring a legal debate,” I would refer to the White House actions as disingenuously putting forth a bogus rationale for political payback and stonewalling on the important questions about this disgracefully corrupt decision. But hey, I don’t get to write the headlines.

Keith Olbermann thinks Bush and Cheney should resign. Dan Froomkin asks “what is more corrupt than using the powers of the presidency for personal benefit?” And the Daily Kos front page is even giving impeachment a full discussion. Just when you think it can’t get any worse…

ADDENDUM: I am reproducing David R. Dow’s letter to the New York Times, and then I’m done with this story.

To the Editor:

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases — 57 in all — lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.

David R. Dow
Houston, July 3, 2007

The writer is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who represents death row inmates, including several who sought commutation from then-Governor Bush.

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