Cheney unhappy with Bush: Where was Libby pardon?
George W. Bush was widely expected to grant a large number of pardons during his final days in office, but almost none were forthcoming. The non-pardon of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for his role in revealing the identity of former CIA officer Valerie Plame may prove to be be the most controversial of these omissions -- at least if former Vice President Dick Cheney and his supporters have anything to say in the matter.
According to conservative columnist and Cheney biographer Stephen F. Hayes, writing in the Weekly Standard, "Bush's decision not to pardon Libby has angered many of the president's strongest defenders. One Libby sympathizer, a longtime defender of Bush, told friends she was 'disgusted' by the president. Another described Bush as 'dishonorable' and a third suggested that refusing to pardon Libby was akin to leaving a soldier on the battlefield."
Hayes quotes Cheney himself as saying, "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."
Hayes is the author of the official biography of Cheney and appears to be representing Cheney's position in this current article. He is also a leading proponent of the theory -- often expressed by Cheney -- that there was a working alliance between al Qaeda and Iraq.
In his article, Hayes recites the standard arguments for why Libby should never have been convicted, such as the assertion that it was actually former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage who first mentioned Plame to reporters.
It's true that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was never able to establish responsibility for the original crime of outing Plame, complaining instead that "when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view."
That is why Libby was convicted instead on four counts relating to the cover-up, including obstructing the investigation, lying under oath, and lying to the FBI about how he learned Plame's identity and who else he told.
At the time of Plame's outing in July 2003, Libby was Cheney's chief of staff and assistant for national security affairs, and there was widespread speculation during the investigation that he had lied to protect his boss.
Former Watergate conspirator John Dean wrote -- somewhat over-optimistically -- in 2005 that "when one studies the indictment, and carefully reads the transcript of the press conference, it appears Libby's saga may be only Act Two in a three-act play. And in my view, the person who should be tossing and turning at night, in anticipation of the last act, is the Vice President of the United States, Richard B. Cheney."
In 2007, emptywheel suggested at The Next Hurrah, "I do believe Fitzgerald intended to argue that Libby obstructed justice to hide Cheney's role--at least before Libby called Cheney to testify (though I still think it's likely). Just in the snippet of Libby's grand jury testimony we've seen, Libby makes completely implausible arguments to say that Cheney wasn't involved in smearing Plame--until after Novak's column. ... All of this addresses the 'what' Libby was obstructing--what facts was he trying to hide when he threw sand in the grand jury's eyes?"
Hayes further argues for Libby's innocence by describing his conviction as the outcome of a "highly charged political fight" between the CIA and the Bush administration. He claims, "The entire chain of events that led to Libby's conviction started with a lie from Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, who claimed to have debunked forged documents related to intelligence reports on Iraq, Niger and uranium. But Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to investigate the reports after his wife recommended him, could not have discredited the reports as forgeries because the U.S. government did not yet possess them at the time he made his trip."
In fact, Wilson never claimed "to have debunked false documents," but merely reported that his trip to Africa early in 2002 had undermined allegations -- which the Bush administration had received from Italian intelligence -- about Saddam Hussen seeking to buy uranium in Niger. Identical claims later resurfaced in the form of the forged Niger documents, which the administration relied upon extensively in its final push for war with Iraq, begining in October 2002.
In his Jul. 6 2003 op-ed for the New York Times, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," Wilson made it clear that he had never seen the forged documents -- and he may not even have realized that they were not yet in existence at the time of his trip. He wrote:
"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office. . . . (As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors -- they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government -- and were probably forged.)"
Hayes acknowledges that Bush may actually believe Libby was guilty, but he also goes on to suggest that Bush may have refrained from pardoning him because of a "less defensible" concern with public opinion. He quotes Nancy Pelosi as saying that Bush is "very proud" of not having finished his termin office by pardoning "people who have influence or know friends in high places."
Hayes concludes by noting, "Of the four times that Cheney had publicly disagreed with Bush--on a gay marriage ban; on firing Donald Rumsfeld; on Washington, D.C.'s gun ban; and on North Korea--two of them involved personal loyalty Cheney felt to someone other than the president. On one occasion it was his daughter, Mary Cheney, and on the other it was his longtime mentor, Donald Rumsfeld. Libby makes it three."