While Trump blasts "leaker" James Comey, he wants to pardon leaker Scooter Libby

One "leaker" Trump doesn't like. The other one, who may be getting a pardon, outed an undercover CIA agent

By Matthew Rozsa
Published April 13, 2018 11:39AM (EDT)
Scooter Libby (Getty/Brendan Smialowski)
Scooter Libby (Getty/Brendan Smialowski)

Update: President Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby on Friday, explaining in a statement, "I don’t know Mr. Libby. But for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life."

President Donald Trump is thinking of pardoning I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney who resigned in disgrace in 2005 and was convicted of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice in 2007.

Trump has already signed off on the pardon after spending several months considering it, according to ABC News. Although former President George W. Bush had commuted Libby's 30 month sentence so as to spare him jail time, he did not issue a full pardon, meaning that Libby initially could neither vote nor continue to practice law. Those rights were later restored to him, by the former by former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The rumored pardon comes at an ironic moment for Trump, who took to Twitter on Friday to blast former FBI Director James Comey as a "leaker" and a "liar" in order to discredit his explosive new book.

When Libby lied to investigators, it was over the controversy about the uncovering of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband Joseph Wilson had been critical of Bush's prosecution of the second Iraq War. It was eventually revealed that a State Department official named Richard Armitage had leaked Plame's identity — which was classified — to journalist Robert Novak.

Critics speculated that this had been done as retribution against Wilson for writing an editorial in The New York Times that cast doubt on a crucial part of the administration's narrative regarding Iraq's alleged acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Libby himself was convicted of lying to investigators about how much he knew regarding Plame's identity, with Libby saying that he couldn't have been the source of the leak based on the timeline of when he supposedly knew about Plame's identity. Multiple sources later came forward and said that they had been informed that Plame was a covert officer from Libby, prior to the time when he said he had been first made aware of it.

Trump's decision to pardon Libby could reflect his growing concern that the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as into various other alleged improprieties by Trump and his associates, could be closing in on him. This interpretation was reinforced, among other things, by Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to the president, who told reporters Friday that "many people think Scooter Libby was the victim of a special counsel run amuck," according to CBS News.

This notion was also reinforced by Plame herself.

"It's very clear that this is a message he is sending that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned," Plame told MSNBC on Friday morning. "So I think he's got an audience of three right now — that would be Manafort, Flynn and Kushner."

Paul Manafort was Trump's campaign manager from June 2016 to August 2016, when he was forced to resign because of revelations that he had connections to a Ukrainian puppet regime; Manafort was indicted on charges ranging from conspiracy against the United States to acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal in October. Michael Flynn served briefly as Trump's national security adviser before resigning due to his own connections to Russia, pleading guilty to the FBI in December to one count of lying to the bureau about his contacts with the Russian government during the Trump presidential transition period. Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and adviser, has been under fire for a number of questions regarding his undisclosed contacts with various foreign governments.

On the same day that she made her comment about Libby having been supposedly victimized, Conway impugned Comey.

"We find that Mr. Comey has a revisionist view of history and seems like a disgruntled ex-employee," Conway told reporters. "After all, he was fired. It's not as if he came to the conclusions that are in his book while he was on the job as FBI director, in the presence in the company of the president and said, 'You know, I just must resign. I can't deal with this anymore. I must resign.'"

When Cheney spent the final months of Bush's administration repeatedly pressuring the president to issue a full pardon, Bush steadfastly refused to capitulate on the grounds that he believed Libby's conviction to have been justified. The legendary relationship between Bush and Cheney — one that had caused Cheney to be reputed as the power behind the throne and which, at the very least, had rendered him the most powerful vice president in history — was destroyed by Bush's unwillingness to pardon Libby.

As The New York Times reported in 2013:

As Bush’s final days in the White House approached, he did not exactly have his vice president under control. Cheney’s lobbying campaign on behalf of Scooter Libby had become deeply disconcerting to the president. To Cheney, it was a simple matter of justice. As he saw it, Libby had been pursued by an unprincipled prosecutor bent on damaging the White House . . .

Now it was time to deliver bad news to Cheney. Bush invited the vice president into the small private dining room off the Oval Office for their final lunch on Jan. 15. There would be no pardon for Libby, Bush said. It was a hard choice, but that was his decision.

“You are leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle,” Cheney snapped.

It might have been the harshest thing Cheney had ever said to him.

“The comment stung,” Bush wrote in his memoirs. “In eight years, I had never seen Dick like this, or even close to this. I worried that the friendship we had built was about to be severely strained, at best.”

If Trump pardons Libby, this will be the second controversial pardon of his administration. In August he issued a pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty of criminal contempt of court for continuing to make immigration-related arrests after he was sued for racial profiling.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Dick Cheney Donald Trump George W Bush James Comey Scooter Libby