Cheney, Bush at odds over Libby

According to the New York Daily News, George Bush and Dick Cheney fought bitterly in the final days of the Bush presidency over the fate of Scooter Libby.  Staffers describe the exasperation both men felt over the issue, with Bush finally so annoyed that he refused to discuss the matter any further.  Cheney, though, would not take no for an answer:

In the waning days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney launched a last-ditch campaign to persuade his boss to pardon Lewis (Scooter) Libby – and was furious when President George W. Bush wouldn’t budge.

Sources close to Cheney told the Daily News the former vice president repeatedly pressed Bush to pardon Libby, arguing his ex-chief of staff and longtime alter ego deserved a full exoneration – even though Bush had already kept Libby out of jail by commuting his 30-month prison sentence. …

In multiple conversations, both in person and over the telephone, Cheney tried to get Bush to change his mind. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the federal probe of who leaked covert CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to the press.

Several sources confirmed Cheney refused to take no for an answer. “He went to the mat and came back and back and back at Bush,” a Cheney defender said. “He was still trying the day before Obama was sworn in.”

Cheney hasn’t exactly been a retiring wallflower about this since then, either.  He has spoken publicly about his frustration with Bush in not pardoning Libby when he had the opportunity.  When Cheney writes his memoirs, and I’d bet he’ll have them ready long before Bush does, he will certainly expand his thoughts on this topic a great deal.

Why didn’t Bush pardon Libby?  After all, as we saw at the end of the Clinton administration, such actions carry zero political or legal risk, even with fairly clear evidence of payoffs, which wouldn’t be the case with a Libby pardon.  Bush may have had one of two reasons, one of which the Daily News hints at in the article:

About the same time, however, an official who has worked closely with both men mused that the relationship “isn’t what it was” when Bush tapped Cheney as his running mate in 2000.

“It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard the President say, ‘Run that by the vice president’s office.’ You used to hear that all the time.”

Could Bush have been blindsided by Libby’s perjury and obstruction of justice, and by the connection of Cheney’s office to one of the leaks (the first being through Richard Armitage at State, no Cheney lover he)?  Bush had promised to fire anyone who deliberately leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to the press, but had to parse that carefully when Libby’s name came up.  His refusal to consider a pardon may be an expression of anger at the entire affair and at his Vice President for putting him in that position at all.

Or it simply could be that Bush really did respect the jury’s verdict and wanted to send a message about perjury and obstruction of justice.  After all, Clinton got impeached on the same grounds, and Republicans had plenty to say then about the corrosive affects of those crimes on the justice system.  Libby could have refused to cooperate, which would have cost him his job but would have saved him a quarter-million dollars and his law license.  Instead, he chose to commit perjury and obstruction of justice, as a jury found.  The commutation respected that verdict, just as the commutation did for border agents Ramos and Compean, while keeping Libby out of prison.

I’d lean towards the second explanation more than the first, but the two are not mutually exclusive, either.