Scooter Libby, VP Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, was thrown to the jaws of the Washington Swamp by the George W. Bush administration for allegedly lying to federal investigators about the unmasking of Valerie Plame. As Arthur Herman wrote in Commentary, an overzealous special prosecutor framed Libby, a dedicated public servant (and a friend of this writer). Now President Donald J. Trump has given him a long-overdue pardon–something that President George W. Bush refused to do, despite Cheney’s heartfelt pleas.
The White House commented today:
Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) to I. “Scooter” Lewis Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Richard Cheney, for convictions stemming from a 2007 trial. …In 2015, one of the key witnesses against Mr. Libby recanted her testimony, stating publicly that she believes the prosecutor withheld relevant information from her during interviews that would have altered significantly what she said. The next year, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously reinstated Mr. Libby to the bar, reauthorizing him to practice law. The Court agreed with the District of Columbia Disciplinary Counsel, who stated that Mr. Libby had presented “credible evidence” in support of his innocence, including evidence that a key prosecution witness had “changed her recollection of the events in question.”
Before his conviction, Mr. Libby had rendered more than a decade of honorable service to the Nation as a public servant at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the White House. His record since his conviction is similarly unblemished, and he continues to be held in high regard by his colleagues and peers.
Why didn’t Bush pardon Libby? Joseph Bottum said it back in 2007: “The case was a political trial from the beginning–and the opponents lined up in a properly political way. One side wanted to use Scooter Libby as a step ladder to reach up and pull down someone higher. The other side wanted to make sure that the case ended with Libby.”
W. washed his hands and turned his back on Libby because he feared that a pardon might make him look complicit in some way. Bush was at no legal risk, to be sure. He just worried about the optics. The psychiatric term for such behavior according to DSM-IV is “chickenshit.”
Donald J. Trump doesn’t care about the optics. He does whatever he thinks best, and he doesn’t care who tells him not to (unless, of course, it is Defense Secretary Mattis telling him about the limitations and risks to military action).
To the Never-Trumpers who think that our president is a lout and a ruffian who cares nothing for decent standards of behavior, I say: What you call “decent standards of behavior” have become so perverse, so cowardly, so hypocritical and so self-serving that only an outsider, a “lout,” a “ruffian” with contempt for your standards will have the courage to do the right thing. Paul Krugman denounced his “deadly narcissism” in the New York Times, by which he means that Trump values his own opinion more than that of Krugman. A better term is “stand-up guy.” We used to have those in America. George W. Bush wasn’t one of them.
The president acts on his impulses, and the result sometimes is awkward in the extreme. After hearing about the poison gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma he tweeted perdition against Assad and his Russian ally (Germany’s right-of-center newspaper Die Welt called this “the first ever declaration of war via Twitter”). The next day the president had to qualify the statement. My guess is that he acted on his gut response to an atrocity. That’s not the most prudent thing for a president to do, but it shows the kind of man he is. Of all the American presidents since Reagan, he is the only one to do what he thinks is right in spite of risks that could cow a lesser man.
Another example is his decision to move America’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. All his top national security advisers–Tillerson, McMaster and Mattis–told him not to. Why buy trouble in the Arab world in return for no tangible advantage? Our enemies were just as mystified. I ran into a Russian diplomat at a political lunch not long ago. We got to talking about Trump, and he said, “The one thing we can’t figure out is why Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem. What was the purpose of this maneuver? Was it to stir the pot and see what sort of reactions he would get?” I told the Russian that he didn’t get it. Trump did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. The Russian stared at me uncomprehending. There hasn’t been a “right thing to do” in Russia for the past hundred years, just the clever or expedient thing to do.
And that, my Never-Trump ex-friends, is our paradox. We have become so morally timid, so obsessed with the angle, so calculating and so cowardly that we need a Donald J. Trump as a corrective. There’s no political advantage to pardoning Scooter Libby on this particular Friday afternoon. The president is embroiled in a battle with the likes of James Comey, who smeared Trump in his recent book while admitting that there is no evidence of illegality. Trump has enough trouble of his own to keep him busy. Why do it? Because he’s a stand-up guy.