Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pardon Me

The Problem With Pardoning Libby

Newsweek wastes no time in its efforts to slap down the surge on the Right for a Libby pardon. They point out that Dubya would have to ignore Justice Department guidelines in order to grant Libby a pardon. They go on to point out that the guidelines are only that and that both Clinton and Bush the elder issued pardons in contravention of the guidelines when it suited them. Okay, fine, whatever.

One of the guidelines for the Justice Department is that the petitioner should have "accepted responsibility for his or her criminal conduct and made restitution" and that he "should be genuinely desirous of forgiveness rather than vindication."

Now, I am not an attorney and I don't know the history of the pardoning power. What I do know is that it is an nearly unlimited power of the President. The Constitution grants the President "shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." Short, sweet and simple. We strict-constructionists believe the text means what it says and says what it means. Thus, whatever guidelines the Justice Department may have, the President can do as he damn well pleases and no one can do anything about it.

I have a real problem with the idea that the sole legitimate purpose of the pardon is to remove some of the consequences of a conviction from a person who has admitted his wrongdoing and is seeking forgiveness. Certainly that is a legitimate use of the pardon, but it seems to me that it is equally appropriate for it to be used as a check on the power of the courts and, yes, the power of juries. It seems to me a perfectly valid exercise of the power to use it in order to correct a mistake made by a jury or to reverse an unjust decision made by a biased jury.

Do I expect to hear Dubya say that the jury screwed up and he's going to set it right? No. Would he be right to do so? Abso-fracking-lutely.

Oh, and shout out to Glenn Beck... It's simple and pat to suggest that if Republicans were angry with Bubba for perjury then they can't honestly take issue with the conviction of Libby on the same charge. Here's the problem with that:

Bubba committed perjury and Libby didn't.

Libby has a differing recollection of a set of conversations that took place several years ago. It is entirely reasonable to conclude that, even if he is incorrect, about the details of those conversations, he is not knowingly lying about them. Everyone has a different recollection of what was said and to whom they said it, particularly when months or years have passed. Bubba, on the other hand was given a very clear and specific definition of sex. He indicated that by that definition he had not had sex when he very clearly did. It is beyond the realm of possibility, even in a person as morally challenged as Bill Clinton, that he would not recall that he engaged in multiple sexual acts with a person not his wife.

The standard here, since we're in a criminal trial, is reasonable doubt. I fail to understand how a fair-minded person can honestly believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Scooter Libby intentionally lied in this instance. The simple fact that there is another reasonable explanation for his conduct (ie differing recollections) seems like enough to acquit him.

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