We were not alone in our 4th of July celebrations this past Wednesday.
On July 2nd, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was granted executive clemency by President Bush in the form of a commuted sentence.
Found guilty by a jury of his peers for committing perjury and obstructing justice, Libby was to serve a 30 month sentence for a crime that, on average, receives a sentence of 17 months. Bush, showing Libby the same compassion he shows a turkey each Thanksgiving, upheld the court’s decision and ruling, but, however, shortened the sentence, seeing it as too “excessive.”
To some this is an outrage. They see this as only one more of the many high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the Bush administration. Blinded by their passions and deep-rooted hatred for everything Bush, they fail to understand that this is his prerogative.
The president’s decision last Monday was in violation of no laws and was entirely upheld by the Constitution. According to the Supreme Court case Biddle vs. Perovich, executive clemency “is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is a part of the Constitutional scheme.”
The framers of that great document found it expedient to grant this unrestricted and unchecked power to the president. This ability to forgive and forget “offenses committed against the United States” is one of the only executive rights not subject to congressional oversight. In the same court case, clemency was seen as “the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.”
If we are to question whether or not Libby’s commutation was beneficial for the nation’s public welfare, we must ask the same of the 141 pardons Clinton granted on his final day in office.
During his eight-year tenure, Clinton set free known members of a Puerto Rican terrorist organization who were responsible for “130 bomb attacks on both political and military targets in the United States between 1974 to 1983,” according to a Chicago-Sun Times report.
Shortly before leaving office, at the insistence of a generous donor to the Democratic Party, Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, tax evader extraordinaire, who, during the oil shortages of the 1970s, had made a fortune in oil trade at the expense of the American public. What is still seen by many as an outright abuse of power and privilege is viewed by the courts and the law of the land as legal and just.
Commutation is not the proper word to describe Libby’s presidential provision. He did not get off easy. By definition, a commutation is the changing of a sentence to one less severe.
Although he was spared prison time – the lesser of the punishments – Libby will still be subject to a damaged reputation, significant fines, two years of probation, and the possibility of disbarment (similar to a dishonorable discharge, but for lawyers), a sentence not satisfied by time served. It is sure that he will not see whether or not HBO’s Oz is accurate in its depiction of prison life, but, one thing is certain: Scooter Libby will forever suffer from the “long-lasting” effects of his inappropriate and irresponsible actions.
What Lewis Libby did was wrong. What Bush did was just, no matter how outrageous it may seem. Whether or not he will be pardoned for his crimes is mere speculation, unsubstantiated at best.
Joseph Haynie is a senior political science major. His column appears occasionally in the summer Collegian edition. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org