A "principled stand" on Libby? Not from this White House

Bush felt free to comment on one criminal conviction when it served his political agenda to do so.

Published March 7, 2007 1:52PM (EST)

Shortly after the jury handed down its verdict Tuesday in the Scooter Libby trial -- a trial that, in the words of the New York Times, cast the vice president of the United States "in the role of puppeteer, pulling the strings in a covert public relations campaign to defend the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq and discredit a critic" -- the White House said that it would have nothing to say about anything for now.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino explained: "Our principled stand of not commenting on an ongoing legal investigation is going to continue."

Principled? Stand? May we refer Perino -- and the president, for that matter -- to the Current News Section of the White House Web site from, oh, say, Nov. 5, 2006? That would be the day on which Saddam Hussein was convicted at his trial in Iraq -- a day that just happened to come a few days before the 2006 midterm elections, and a day on which the president saw fit to stand at a lectern on the tarmac at an airport in Waco, Texas, to deliver something called the "President's Statement on the Saddam Hussein Verdict."

The president acknowledged in his statement that Saddam still had "an automatic right of appeal" -- just like Scooter Libby does now -- but that didn't stop him from commenting further. Bush called Saddam's trial "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law" and "a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government." "During Saddam Hussein's trial, " he continued, "the court received evidence from 130 witnesses. The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis had to listen to free Iraqis recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered against their families and against them. Today, the victims of this regime have received a measure of the justice which many thought would never come."

Yes, and Tuesday the victims of the Bush administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence -- and that would be pretty much all of us, really -- received a measure of justice that many of us thought would never come. But you won't hear the president saying that or anything else about Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney or Valerie Plame anytime soon. After all, he's a man of principle, and a man of principle would never do that sort of thing. Right?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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