Many people have urged Donald Trump to use his pardon power to thwart what they see as an out-of-control special prosecutor. Few knew they had Patrick Fitzgerald in mind. More than a decade after being convicted on four counts of obstruction and perjury related to the unmasking of CIA asset Valerie Plame Wilson, Trump will issue him a full pardon, perhaps as early as today:
President Donald Trump plans to pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
That’s according to a person familiar with the president’s decision who said the announcement could come as early as Friday. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the decision ahead of its public announcement and demanded anonymity.
At first blush, this seems like a strange choice for a rare Trump clemency action. Scooter Libby got his sentence commuted by George W. Bush in the final days of his presidency but did not get a full pardon, despite heavy lobbying by Vice President Dick Cheney. Trump hasn’t had much love for the Bush administration, attacking it over the Iraq War — a decision in which Libby was closely involved. The New York Times notes some other curiosities in this choice:
Mr. Libby, who goes by Scooter, was convicted of four felonies in 2007 for perjury before a grand jury, lying to F.B.I. investigators and obstruction of justice during an investigation into the disclosure of the work of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. officer. President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s 30-month prison sentence but refused to grant him a full pardon despite the strenuous requests of Mr. Cheney, a decision that soured the relationship between the two men.
A pardon of Mr. Libby would paradoxically put Mr. Trump in the position of absolving one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, which Mr. Trump has denounced as a catastrophic miscalculation. It would also mean he was forgiving a former official who was convicted in a case involving leaks despite Mr. Trump’s repeated inveighing against those who disclose information to reporters.
True, but in the case of Plame, Libby wasn’t the source. The leak came from Richard Armitage, who at the time worked for Secretary of State Colin Powell, which Armitage later acknowledged publicly. Libby misled investigators and a grand jury on what he knew of Plame’s status, which he argued in his defense was an honest mistake of memory. The special counsel probe headed by Fitzgerald to find and punish the leak ended up with only Libby’s scalp on the wall.
That’s almost certainly what’s attracting Trump to this case now, more than a decade later. Trump no doubt sees a Libby pardon as a cost-free warning shot across Robert Mueller’s bow, a reminder that the president can start issuing pardons to anyone caught in a perjury trap, especially on tangential issues. It’s certainly going to give Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos some food for thought. Rick Gates would face a raft of state charges even if pardoned by Trump on the federal charges relating to his business dealings with Paul Manafort, so it probably won’t upset the incentives in place there. However, that case so far has nothing to do with Trump anyway.
Why now, though? The Washington Post suggests that it might have something to do with the influx of some new faces in the White House:
Other Bush loyalists also expressed their frustration — including a number who are now in Trump’s orbit.
“Somebody’s going to have to ask President Bush why he went out of his way to say he respected the jury’s verdict,” John R. Bolton, Bush’s UN ambassador and Trump’s new national security adviser, said at the time. “If you think it was a miscarriage of justice, then you think it shouldn’t have gone to a jury to begin with.”
Alan Dershowitz, a vocal Trump defender on cable television, also pushed Libby’s appellate cause, calling his appeals “serious and substantial” and filing a brief in 2007 asking for Libby to be granted bail pending his appeal.
Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, the husband and wife attorney team Trump considered hiring earlier this year, are also vocal Libby backers.
When Libby got his law license back in 2016, DiGenova told the Daily Caller: “Comey and Fitzgerald tried to frame Scooter Libby, and they did, but then they didn’t get it done. And then of course that idiot George W. Bush didn’t give him a pardon he only commuted his sentence.”
Did these figures bring up Libby on their own to get a sense of long-delayed justice, or did it come up as a strategic move? It seems odd that Trump and his animosity to the Iraq War and its leading figures would have focused on Libby independently. Now that Trump has apparently decided not to cooperate with Mueller — Allahpundit has more on that later — it looks like the White House has decided to put together a strategic plan to undermine him within the bounds of politics and the law.