Lewis Libby owes his freedom to our corrupt political elite

The lawbreaking and radicalism of the last six years are the natural byproducts of our Beltway opinion-makers.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published July 3, 2007 11:27AM (EDT)

(updated below)

That Lewis Libby has been protected by George Bush from the consequences of his crimes only highlights how corrupt and broken our political system is. It reveals nothing new. This is the natural, inevitable outgrowth of our rancid political culture, shaped and slavishly defended by our Beltway ruling class and our serious, sober opinion-making elite.

The disasters and rampant lawlessness and fundamental erosion of our country's political values and institutions are exactly what Fred Hiatt and David Broder and Time Magazine and Tim Russert and Tom Friedman and the New Republic geniuses have spent the last six years protecting, enabling and defending. We have the country we have -- one in which our most powerful political leaders are literally beyond the reach of the law in every sense, where we casually invade and bomb and occupy countries that have not attacked us, where our moral standing in the world has collapsed with good reason, where we are viewed on every continent in the world as a rogue, dangerous and lawless nation -- because we are ruled by a Beltway elite and political press that is sickly and cowardly and slavish at its core.

That Dick Cheney's top aide, one of the most well-connected neoconservatives on the planet, is protected from the consequences of his felonies ought to be anything but surprising. That is the country that we have. It is a result that is completely consistent with the "values" that define official Washington. No other outcome was possible.

The Plame investigation was urged by the Bush CIA and commenced by the Bush DOJ, Libby's conviction pursued by a Bush-appointed federal prosecutor, his jail sentence imposed by a Bush-appointed "tough-on-crime" federal judge, all pursuant to harsh and merciless criminal laws urged on by the "tough-on-crime/no-mercy" GOP. Lewis Libby was sent to prison by the system constructed and desired by the very Republican movement protesting his plight.

But our political discourse and media institutions are so broken and corrupt that Bush followers (and their media enablers) feel free to make the completely-backwards and fact-free claim that the Libby prosecution was driven by "partisan" and "political" motives -- as though it was a mirror image of the Clinton persecution driven by Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and a purely partisan Republican prosecutor -- because they know that there is no such thing as a claim too false to be passed on without real objection by our vapid, drooling press corps.

For the right-wing political movement that has spawned the Bush disasters of the last six years, the exoneration of Lewis Libby was not merely something they supported. It was much more than that. It was a matter of the greatest importance. That is because Libby is a True Believer, a loyal member of their cult. Seeing him in prison would be humiliating, would make them feel weak and defeated at the hands of the Enemy (defined as "anyone who opposes them"), which is the worst outcome there is.

The only "principle" they have is that their movement is Good, those who oppose it Evil, and loyal members of their movement -- and especially its Leaders -- must never have their power checked or limited in any way. One who serves at Dick Cheney's side cannot possibly be in prison. Literally, there is no crime their Leaders can commit which will render them unwilling to defend and justify it. The overriding priority is that they remain strong and powerful, immune from the constraints of the law.

Hence, the country's right-wing movement made the defense of Lewis Libby one of its most impassioned causes, and one of the leading candidates seeking to lead it -- Fred Thompson -- made exoneration of this convicted felon one of his principal missions over the last two years. And he does so while running around spitting out tough and righteous sermons about the need to restore the "rule of law": "It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it," he said in the very same speech where he urged Libby's pardon. One of the prime defenders of Lewis Libby has the audacity to say such things with a straight face because he knows how broken our political and media institutions are.

But the most significant disease highlighted by the Libby travesty is also the most obvious one. We have decided to be a country in which our highest Republican political officials can break the law freely, without any real consequence. In the United States, the law does not apply to the President and his closest aides. And there is one fact after the next which proves that.

Almost thirty years ago, the American people reacted with fury and horror over revelations by the Church Committee that every administration in prior decades had been spying on Americans for completely improper purposes. In response, they enacted a law, through their Congress, making it a felony for any government official to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial approval, punishable by 5 years in prison for each offense. Since 1977, it has been a felony in the United States for political officials to eavesdrop on Americans without judicial warrants.

But in December of 2005, The New York Times revealed that George Bush had been breaking this law -- committing felonies -- every day for the prior four years. And when he was caught, he went on television and proudly admitted what he had done and vowed defiantly to continue doing it. And our wise and serious Washington media establishment shrugged, even applauded. They directed their fury only at those who objected to the lawbreaking. The GOP-controlled Congress blocked every attempt to investigate this criminality -- with virtually no outcry -- and then set out to pass a new law making this criminality retroactively legal. In response to revelations that the President was deliberately breaking the law, official Washington fell all over itself figuring out the most efficient way to protect and defend the President's crimes.

Ever since Gerald Ford, with the support of our permanent Beltway ruling class, pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes -- followed naturally by the current President's father shielding his own friends and aides from the consequences of serious criminal convictions for lying to Congress and deliberately breaking its laws, with one of those criminals then appointed with no objection by his son to run Middle East policy from the White House -- we have been a nation which allows our highest political officials to reside beyond the reach of law. It is just that simple.

And over the last six years, that "principle" has been extended to its most extreme though logical conclusions. This administration expressly adopted theories -- right out in the open -- which, as it its central premise, states that the President is greater than the law, that his "obligation" to protect the nation means that nothing and nobody can limit what he does, including -- especially -- the laws enacted by our Congress, no matter how radical and extreme that conduct is.

In response to this most audacious declaration of Presidential Omnipotence, our Sober Guardians of Political Wisdom shrugged. Those who objected too strenuously, who used terms such as "criminal" and "lawlessness" or who raised the specter of impeachment -- the tool created by the Founders to redress executive lawbreaking -- were branded as radicals or impetuous, unserious partisan hysterics. The only crime recognized by official Washington is using impetuous or excessively irreverent language to object to the lawbreaking and radicalism of the Leader, or acting too aggressively to investigate it. That is the only crime that triggers their outrage.

Even with an overarching Ideology of Lawlessness explicitly embraced by their President right in front of their faces -- an ideology used to torture people, to detain people in "law-free" dungeons around the world, even to abduct our fellow citizens on U.S. soil and put them into a black hole for years without any charges or even contact with the outside world -- our political establishment stood by him, supported him, insisting that he and his Vice President were serious, responsible men acting under difficult circumstances to protect us, and that the only ones deserving of true scorn were those who were overzealous in their criticisms of the Leaders.

The President and his followers know that they can apply completely different rules to themselves, and freely break the law, because our Washington establishment, our "political press," will never object too strenuously, or even at all. Over the last six years, our media has directed their hostility only towards those who investigate or attempt to hold accountable the most powerful members of our political system -- hence their attacks on the GOP prosecutor investigating the Bush administration's crimes, their anger towards the very few investigative reporters trying to uncover Washington's secrets, and their righteous condemnation towards each of the handful of attempts by Congress to exercise investigative oversight of the administration.

The political press -- the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful -- now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable. Hence, in official Washington, the Real Villains are Patrick Fitzgerald, Ken Silverstein, Russ Feingold and his Censure resolution, Pat Leahy and his disruptive subpoenas -- our Beltway elite reserves their venom for those who want to turn the lights on what our most powerful political officials are doing.

What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.

In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton described the defining power of the King which made the British monarchy intolerably corrupt: "In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred." Thomas Paine proclaimed in Common Sense "that so far as we approve of monarch, that in America THE LAW IS KING." But little effort is required to see how far removed we now are from those basic principles.

It it no surprise that we have political leaders who are corrupt and abuse their power. Our whole political system is premised on the expectation that this will happen. But that expectation was accompanied by the attempt by the Founders to create as many safeguards and checks on those abuses as possible. Over the last six years, all of those safeguards have failed completely.

We have a radical and lawless government that has run rampant over the last six years precisely because the institutions designed to stop that abuse have not only stood idly by, but have actively defended and participated in it. We actually have a press corps that holds, as its central belief, that our highest government officials should be free of investigation and accountability. In every country ruled by a lawless government and a corrupt political and media elite, powerful political officials do not go to prison for crimes. That is why convicted felon Lewis Libby will remain free.

UPDATE: Behold the pure derangement pervading our country's right-wing movement, as displayed today by National Review commentator and right-wing radio talk show host Mark Levin:

The Commutation

The way I see it, Lewis Libby was about to become a political prisoner and the president prevented that.

As Harper's Scott Horton noted yesterday in a superb post (and I return the sentiment Horton expressed in the first paragraph of his post today), the neocon mentality is quite similar to the core tactics of the KGB, whose modus operandi Horton knows well from his years of defending democracy and human rights advocates in the former Soviet Union:

Moreover, this episode tells us one of the most deeply guarded truths of the Inner Party of the Neocon movement, namely: the ends justify the means. That is, to accomplish a goal accepted by the Inner Party, you are entitled to do anything -- break the law, by all means, and indeed set the law into oblivion if you can. That explains the fate of the Geneva Conventions, which were, alas, simply inconvenient -- they got in the way of the notion that no rules can stand between us and the accomplishment of our objectives.

For the Nietzschean Neocon man (let's call him Ubermensch or perhaps even better, Scooter Libby), there are no rules; they exist for the people of the herd. And that explains the indignation when the rules for the herd are applied against Scooter.

Apropos of Horton's "Doppelganger" comment today, I documented precisely this neocon corruption several weeks ago by noting that neocons believe that no other neocon should ever be punished or otherwise held accountable for anything they do -- see e.g., Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Conrad Black, AIPAC officials charged with espionage, Elliot Abrams, etc. etc.

But this belief in intrinsic legal immunity extends to the entire Bush movement (which has become virtually synonymous with "neoconservatism"). That is what explains the literally endless defense not merely of individual acts of illegality, but of the claimed power to break the law in general. They are an authoritarian movement which believes only in its own power. By definition, none of its Leaders can ever be guilty of anything because to be a Leader of that movement means, by definition, that their actions are always for the Good and that anything which impedes those actions -- whether it be ethics, political principles or the law -- are unjust.

Glenn Greenwald

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