Barone: Pardon Scooter

Michael Barone wants George Bush to issue a full pardon to Scooter Libby, currently appealing his conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice in connection to the Wilson-Plame leak.  Barone thinks that Bush should acknowledge that Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe was a political hit job, especially now that Bush risks no damage by doing so, with Congress adjourned and no more legislation coming his way:

Libby was a dedicated and hypercompetent public servant who was brought down by a prosecutor investigating a scandal that wasn’t a scandal. The investigation purportedly was an attempt to discover who had told Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was a CIA “operative” (Novak’s word). But prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knew before the investigation began that the leaker was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. It is astonishing that Armitage and his friend and boss Secretary of State Colin Powell didn’t inform Bush of this and allowed two of his top aides, Libby and Karl Rove, to be harassed by Fitzgerald for months and years.

Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a non-sequitur.  I agree with Michael on the value of the investigation itself.  It got pushed by people wanting to make martyrs out of Wilson and Plame for very obvious reasons, even though Joe Wilson misrepresented his own report and his wife’s involvement in getting him the mission to Niger in the first place.  Fitzgerald finished his investigation without ever filing charges on the leak itself, and Armitage suffered no consequences at all.

However, that’s not really the point, either.  One cannot lie under oath and lie to federal investigators without risking prosecution, and for good reason, especially when one works in the government.  We cannot allow public officials to intentionally mislead investigators, even if they think the investigation isn’t worth conducting.  That’s not their call.  Otherwise, we open the door for rampant public corruption and make perjury a no-risk strategy.

I’ll put it this way.  Let’s say, hypothetically, that Rahm Emanuel lied to investigators over the last couple of weeks about what he knew of Rod Blagojevich’s pay-for-play efforts, and it turns out that Fitzgerald can’t get enough on Blago to prosecute him.  Should Emanuel get tried for obstruction of justice and perjury?  Or should Fitzgerald let him off the hook, too?  If he did get tried and convicted, would it be right for Barack Obama to pardon him?

I’m not necessarily opposed to a pardon for Libby, but I disagree that he has some greater case for clemency than others on the list.  Libby got a commutation and won’t have to serve his prison sentence, which should be a sufficient show of mercy.  If we don’t hold government officials accountable for their crimes and make a habit of letting well-connected people off the hook, we will deserve what follows.

Tom Maguire agrees with Barone more than I do, and be sure to read his thoughts.