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Editorial Boards Discuss President Bush's Decision to Commute

Posted on by Jesse Lee

Editorials Hit Libby’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card
Editor & Publisher – July 03, 2007

The bloggers, politicians, and TV pundits weighed in quickly Monday after President Bush took the surprisingly sudden step of commuting Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s 30-month prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case. Now newspaper editorials are appearing, and nearly all of them have condemned the Bush act.

First up, The New York Times and The Washington Post, which had viewed the case quite differently, each ripped the Bush move.

From the Times’ Tuesday editorial: “Mr. Bush's assertion that he respected the verdict but considered the sentence excessive only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it's committed by common folk …

“Within minutes of the Libby announcement, the same Republican commentators who fulminated when Paris Hilton got a few days knocked off her time in a county lockup were parroting Mr. Bush's contention that a fine, probation and reputation damage were ‘harsh punishment’ enough for Mr. Libby.

“Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.”

The Post, which had often mocked the court case, declares today: “We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. But reducing the sentence to no prison time at all, as Mr. Bush did — to probation and a large fine — is not defensible. … Mr. Bush, while claiming to ‘respect the jury’s verdict,’ failed to explain why he moved from ‘excessive’ to zero.

“It’s true that the felony conviction that remains in place, the $250,000 fine and the reputational damage are far from trivial. But so is lying to a grand jury. To commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “President Bush’s commutation of a pal’s prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system. It’s the latest sign of the huge repairs to American concepts of the rule of law that await the next president.”

The Denver Post found that “such big-footing of other branches of government is not unprecedented with this administration. The president’s abuse of signing statements show his disrespect for Congress’ power to make law. His insistence that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay be denied Habeas Corpus rights mocks legal tradition. It’s a shame that his actions in the Libby affair will add to that list. Libby should be held accountable for his crimes.”

San Francisco Chronicle: “In commuting the sentence of former White House aide Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, President Bush sent the message that perjury and obstruction of justice in the service of the president of the United States are not serious crimes.”

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