Bush’s Arguments on Libby Make No Sense

July 4, 2007

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.


What were Pelosi and Reid supposed to do?

May 23, 2007

While I’m as sick over the Democrats caving to Bush on the Iraq war funding bill as the next sentient being, I think Keith Olbermann went a little too far in his Special Comment by suggesting that war opponents should, “if need be, unseat Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi.” The full Special Comment, video and text, is here.

Olbermann knows full well that there aren’t the votes in either the House or Senate to cut off funding completely for the war at this point. Any bill with timetables will be vetoed by the president. The leadership could take the step of refusing to pass any bill whatsoever, but that’s extremely risky politically because it would give the impression of congressional dithering harming the war effort. Olbermann may be right that the framing of the war funding issue by Bush and many in the press is ludicrous, but he’s wrong to criticize the leadership so harshly for taking the least bad of the bad options available to them.


Olbermann’s “Special Comment” Takes History Analogies Too Seriously

February 27, 2007

Keith Olbermann did a “special comment” at the end of his Countdown show on Monday night. His subject was a segment of an interview Condi Rice did on Fox News Sunday this weekend, comparing the situation in Iraq to postwar Germany after the overthrow of Hitler. You can go watch the whole video at the Raw Story link.

While I’m generally a big fan of Olbermann, this special comment struck me as a bit overdone and hyperventilating. Of course, Iraq is far from being parallel to World War II in many, many respects, but to be fair to Secretary Rice, I don’t think she was ever saying the wars were the same (at least not in the 42 words Olbermann seized on). Rather, she was drawing a loose comparison based on unstable conditions after a tyrannical leader had been removed from power. Although I think the policy she’s trying to support with the comparison is disastrously wrong, I don’t think this was as egregious as plenty of other inaccurate things administration officials say all the time.

Furthermore, the loose historical analogy is something bandied about in politics all the time. We saw the flip side of this when Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the Gulag of our time,” prompting administration supporters to attack Amnesty by pointing out all sorts of historical facts about the Gulag that have no counterpart in our present-day terrorist detention center. But perfect historical accuracy is never the point with these sorts of comparisons. The point is to invoke a more general principle, and that is something that — however flawed her policy judgment — I think Secretary Rice was doing within the normal parameters of modern-day politics.

Olbermann has received acclaim in some circles for his special comments, and he has said that he tries not to do the special comments too often because he can’t force them — they need to come to him organically, he says. For whatever reason, this one seemed a little forced, and especially now, with a new contract from MSNBC in hand, I would’ve thought the pressure on Olbermann to do this sort of thing would be non-existent. Who knows, maybe it was just an off night for him.