Thu Jul 5, 12:30 AM ET
"Scooter" Libby will serve as much time in prison for lying under oath to a federal grand jury as Bill Clinton served for lying under oath to a federal grand jury.
Mr. Libby, who was chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted in March of lying about from whom he learned that Valerie Plame Wilson worked at the CIA. Last month Judge Reggie Walton sentenced him to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine.
On Monday, President Bush commuted the prison sentence. His conviction still stands, and Mr. Libby still must pay the fine.
Democrats were outraged. "As Independence Day nears, we are reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under law," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. "This commutation completely tramples on that principle."
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said President Bush should be impeached for "crimes against the Constitution of the United States."
So were liberal newspapers. "President Bush's commutation of a pal's prison sentence counts as a most shocking act of disrespect for the U.S. justice system," said the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an editorial.
"In this case, Mr. Bush didn't sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice," said the New York Times. "He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell."
These worthies were outraged in the fall of 1998, too. But then they were outraged because President Clinton had been impeached for committing perjury.
With so many others piling on, Hillary Clinton should have had the good sense to hold her tongue. But she said "this commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."
That's rich, as in Marc Rich, the financier who fled the country to avoid prosecution for tax evasion, fraud and "trading with the enemy." On his last day in office, President Clinton pardoned Mr. Rich after his ex-wife, Denise (with whom Mr. Clinton reportedly had been sleeping) donated $1 million to the Democratic party and $10,000 to the Clintons' legal defense fund.
That day Mr. Clinton also pardoned four Orthodox Jews who had bilked the government out of some $40 million. They were leaders of the Skver sect in New Square, N.Y. Members of the sect usually vote Republican, but broke heavily for Hillary in her senate campaign after she invited the group's spiritual leader to the White House.
Others among the 140 Mr. Clinton pardoned on his last day in office were Henry Cisneros, his former Housing secretary who was convicted of lying to federal officials; Susan McDougal, his former partner in the Whitewater land deal, and his former CIA Director, John Deutch, convicted of mishandling national secrets.
Few Democrats or journalists said those pardons sent "the clear signal" that in the Clinton administration "cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice." Few Democrats or journalists said anything about them at all. Hillary Clinton could get away with her blatant hypocrisy because she knew her fellow hypocrites wouldn't call her on it.
And no complaints were heard from these worthies when Sandy Berger, who had been President Clinton's national security adviser, received no jail time -- and only a $50,000 fine -- for stealing classified documents from the National Archives.
We still don't know why Sandy stole those documents, or why he destroyed some. The news media aren't pursuing the story. For most journalists, a scandal isn't a scandal unless a Republican is involved.
Mr. Bush also took flak from the right for commuting Mr. Libby's prison sentence. The editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post blasted him for not pardoning Mr. Libby outright.
It wasn't a crime to disclose Ms. Plame's identity (she hadn't been covert for more than five years), and it was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who outed her, not Mr. Libby. But Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald demanded he be sentenced as if he had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
I'm suspicious of verdicts handed down by DC juries, and I think Mr. Fitzgerald is the federal equivalent of disgraced Duke rape prosecutor Michael Nifong.
But I think the president got it right. There was no underlying crime, but Mr. Libby might have lied to the grand jury. If so, he should pay. But the loss of his job, his reputation and the $250,000 fine are greater punishment than similarly situated Democratic offenders ever receive.