The House takes on clemency

Did Bush's Libby commutation undermine the rule of law? Who knows.


Julia Dahl
July 12, 2007 12:31AM (UTC)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, husband of outed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, accused President Bush today of being "willing to subvert the rule of law and system of justice."

"The President's actions last week cast a pall of suspicion over his office and Vice President Dick Cheney," said Wilson, speaking at the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on the "Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." The hearing, according to the opening statement of Chairman John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., was an attempt to ascertain whether the President's grant of a commutation to Scooter Libby "undermined the concept of equal justice under the law."

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Further, Conyers asked, "Does the fact that Mr. Libby has received a commuted sentence rather than a pardon inhibit Congress' ability to learn the truth?"

Wilson clearly thought so.

"In commuting Mr. Libby's sentence, the president has removed any incentive for Mr. Libby to cooperate with the prosecutor," said Wilson. "The obstruction of justice [is] ongoing, and now the president has emerged as its greatest protector."

Douglas A. Berman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, testified after Wilson, calling Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence "suspect" and "inconsistent with the Justice Department's stated sentencing guidelines." Berman also suggested that President Bush might have been well served to have looked at the cases of Lil' Kim and <a href="Martha Stewart, both of whom served time in prison, in part, at least, for lying to prosecutors.

David Rifkin, however, a former Justice official in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, called the commutation "fully consummate with the way the framers expected the pardon power to be used," and ended his statement by saying that he hopes "the President completes the job and pardons Mr. Libby at the appropriate time."

When they broke for recess, the committee hadn't gotten to the bottom of the issue, but they had managed to display that they were sharply divided about the efficacy of the endeavor.

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"I think this hearing today is a waste of time," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "This Congress is rapidly becoming a do-even-more-nothing Congress." Sensenbrenner went on to accuse his colleagues "on the other side of the aisle" of "braying at the moon" instead of getting down to the business of governing.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, on the other hand, thanked Chairman John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., for leading "the most constructive oversight Judiciary Committee that we've had in more than a decade."

Guess it just depends where you're sitting.


Julia Dahl

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