We said it in March, when I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby became the only person convicted of any crime in the CIA-leak investigation, and we’ll say it again now that he has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison: President Bush should pardon Libby, and do it now.
There has always been solid justification for a pardon. Although he tried mightily, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never found enough evidence to charge Libby or anyone else with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act in the CIA-leak affair. From the beginning of his investigation, Fitzgerald knew who revealed CIA employee Valerie Plame’s identity to columnist Robert Novak, and it wasn’t Libby. (That honor goes to former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage.) The fact that there was a special prosecutor at all was more the result of bureaucratic infighting and political cowardice in the Bush administration than of any wrongdoing by Libby or the others who were investigated. And finally, the discrepancies between Libby’s grand-jury testimony and that of the journalists who contradicted him can be explained by differences in memory, and should not have resulted in perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges against Libby. Anyone who watched Libby’s trial knows it was a parade of conflicting memories, and reasonable people could disagree with the jury’s verdict.
Now, however, we have a new reason to call on President Bush to pardon Libby: Fitzgerald’s deplorable behavior in the days leading up to the sentencing. In pre-sentencing legal arguments, it became clear that Fitzgerald wanted the judge to sentence Libby, who had been found guilty of process crimes, as if he had instead been convicted of those more serious underlying allegations that formed the basis of the CIA-leak investigation. Fitzgerald ignored the fact that he had never brought charges under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, and wrote that the grand jury “obtained substantial evidence indicating that one or both of the statutes may have been violated.” He asked Judge Reggie Walton to treat Libby as if it had been proven that such crimes occurred.
The problem was that Fitzgerald not only did not charge Libby or anyone else with those underlying crimes, he never even offered any evidence in court that those crimes, as carefully defined by the statutes involved, ever happened. His throw-the-book-at-him sentencing recommendation contradicted the conclusion reached by probation officials, who in their pre-sentencing report pointed out that “the defendant was neither charged nor convicted of any crime involving the leaking of [Valerie Plame Wilson’s] ‘covert’ status.”
Going one step farther, Fitzgerald also argued that Mrs. Wilson was, without any doubt, a covert CIA agent as defined by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In court filings, he offered what he said was a CIA-authored summary of her job status affirming that, at the time her name was revealed by Novak, she was covert, and that the CIA was taking “affirmative measures to conceal her identity,” as required by law. But many months ago, when Libby’s defense team was begging for such information, Fitzgerald refused to provide it. He pointedly declined to call Plame “covert.” He said her job status was irrelevant to the case against Libby. He even argued that it was irrelevant whether Mrs. Wilson worked at the CIA at all. Agreeing with Fitzgerald, Judge Walton barred both sides from discussing Mrs. Wilson’s status at the trial.
But in the days before sentencing, Fitzgerald suddenly wanted to talk about Mrs. Wilson’s job. Again, Libby’s lawyers were given no chance to look into her status at the CIA. “We have never been granted an opportunity to challenge this conclusory assertion or any of the other unsubstantiated claims in this document, nor permitted to investigate how it was created,” the defense team argued. “If nothing else, the fact that the CIA’s spokesperson confirmed Ms. Wilson’s CIA employment to Mr. Novak calls into question whether the government was taking affirmative measures to conceal her identity.”
All of this might be funny if it weren’t so serious for Libby. He is a dedicated public servant caught in a crazy political fight that should have never happened, convicted of lying about a crime that the prosecutor can’t even prove was committed. President Bush has the power to end this ridiculous saga right now. He should do so.