Former Vice President Dick Cheney disagreed publicly with his boss just four times in the eight years they served together. Yesterday, however, on the first day after the official end of the Bush administration, Cheney disagreed with George W. Bush once more.
Cheney told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whom he described as a "victim of a serious miscarriage of justice," deserved a presidential pardon.
Asked for his reaction to Bush's decision Cheney said: "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."
Bush's decision not to pardon Libby has angered many of the president's strongest defenders. One Libby sympathizer, a longtime defender of Bush, told friends she was "disgusted" by the president. Another described Bush as "dishonorable" and a third suggested that refusing to pardon Libby was akin to leaving a soldier on the battlefield. They believe that the prosecution of Libby was riddled with inconsistencies and double-standards. Not least of those is the fact that former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who leaked the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame to at least two reporters, was never charged. And Fitzgerald had known from the outset of his investigation that Armitage was the leaker.
Others, including some who believe it's possible that Libby did lie to the grand jury, argue that Libby should have been pardoned because his conviction came as a result of highly-charged political fight between the Wilson, the CIA, and the Bush administration.
The entire chain of events that led to Libby's conviction started with a lie from Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, who claimed to have debunked forged documents related to intelligence reports on Iraq, Niger and uranium. But Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to investigate the reports after his wife recommended him, could not have discredited the reports as forgeries because the U.S. government did not yet possess them at the time he made his trip.
Despite the many problems with Wilson's stories--at one point he justified his falsehoods by acknowledging he had used a little "literary flair"--they became the narrative that drove media reporting on the story and shaped Fitzgerald's understanding of the case.
So why did Bush refuse to pardon Libby? There are some indications that he believes
Libby was guilty. When Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence in the summer of 2007, he issued a statement that suggested a pardon for Libby would be unlikely. "I respect the jury's verdict," Bush said at the time, noting only that he found the sentence "excessive." He added: "The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting." Earlier, Bush had praised special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for running his investigation in "a very dignified way."
A second reason is less defensible. Two sources believe that the White House was concerned with public relations and simply did not want to defend or justify a Libby pardon.
In an interview on Larry King Live yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that she spoke to Bush about his views on pardons.
Larry King: Were you surprised the outgoing president issued no pardons.
Pelosi: I spoke to him about that yesterday at breakfast before we came to the Capitol and he was very proud of that. He said people who have gotten pardons are usually people who have influence or know friends in high places--is not available to ordinary people. So he was very proud of that. It was interesting .He thought that there was more access for some than others and he was not going to do any.
Cheney spoke Wednesday to Wyoming state legislators in Cheyenne. He recalled his time in the capitol as an intern and avoided much serious discussion of his role in the Bush administration.
Still, it was a big role and Cheney won far more arguments than he lost. Of the four times that Cheney had publicly disagreed with Bush--on a gay marriage ban; on firing Donald Rumsfeld; on Washington, D.C.'s gun ban; and on North Korea--two of them involved personal loyalty Cheney felt to someone other than the president. On one occasion it was his daughter, Mary Cheney, and on the other it was his longtime mentor, Donald Rumsfeld.
Libby makes it three.
Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (HarperCollins).