- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2007

These are the saddest of times and the worst of times for George W. Bush. His war in Iraq continues to truck south, to join the immigration “reform” legislation that took up residence at the South Pole some time ago, and now his remaining friends are urging him to be the stand-up guy Texans are always telling us they are.

Not even the iron fence of secrecy and security surrounding the White House can resist the pressure building on the president to stand up to pardon Scooter Libby, soon to be sentenced to 24 months in prison for lying about a crime that was never committed. He won’t be allowed to remain free while his appeal goes forward. This conviction stinks with growing pungency with every day Scooter remains in limbo. The principals are not worried about justice, but about trying to keep the stink off their robes, judicial and otherwise. There are villains aplenty.

The special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, was brought in to find out who “outed” Valerie Plame, the dowager bombshell of the Potomac Palisades, revealing her to be an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Suspicion eventually fell on Scooter, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. As incredible as it may be, Mr. Fitzgerald knew all along that it was not Scooter at all, but Richard L. Armitage, the government functionary who actually first identified Mzz Plame. As it turns out, she was not a secret agent at all, but little more than a clerk assigned to clip and paste newspaper and magazine articles. No Mata Hari or Antonia Ford she. “The princess of the pastepot,” one of her colleagues called her. Since she was not a secret agent, under the law there was no harm, no foul.

But having spent millions on his luxury fishing expedition (it’s not clear what he was fishing for, since he already knew who the “outer” was), Mr. Fitzgerald was desperate for a conviction to turn in with his expense account. He figured he had found a railroad leading to a conviction. Judge Reggie Walton knew what the prosecutor was doing, but judges are lawyers first, after all, and judges, august if not necessarily noble, are eager to be helpful to lawyers trying to cover up their sins and shortcomings. Mr. Fitzgerald pushed ahead, determined to convict someone even if he couldn’t find a crime.

Such a gross miscarriage of justice ought to be catnip for a president eager not only to be seen doing the right thing, but actually to do the right thing. In addition to whatever salve it might be to a disciplined conscience, this would assuage the rumbling and mumbling among the president’s oldest and most reliable friends. Even Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard who was one of the earliest cheerleaders for that misbegotten war on the Euphrates, now suggests that he no longer respects the president.

George W. is getting conflicting advice. Some of his wise men are telling him that he can’t afford to squander his popularity (popularity? are his wise men residents of this planet?), and Scooter must go to the slammer if the president is to protect his legacy (what legacy is that? the 29 percent?) and lasting reputation. They’re telling him he can’t afford another major controversy. The Democrats, eager to raise their 23 percent approval in the public-opinion polls, will be on him at once.

The realists, who have little standing at the moment in this White House, are telling him that he’s got nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. With a pardon, or at least a commutation, he might catch a little wind for the rest of his term. He can afford to throw a crumb or two to his oldest and most reliable friends. If this displeases his new allies among the Democrats in Congress, too bad. They’ll get over it.

The realists, as befits their standing, are warned to be careful how they approach the president. Make no arguments of justice and principle, according to an account in the Politico, a Washington political journal. Keep it warm and fuzzy, about how hard prison for Scooter would be on his family.

Fraidy cats at the White House fear that a pardon for Scooter would be compared to Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon for Marc Rich. But the public could reckon the difference between a convicted swindler and the victim of a railroad job, even if some of the White House munchkins can’t.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.



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