In another gesture to hard-core conservatives that appear to have become routine for the White House in the run-up to the midterm elections, Donald Trump is set to vindicate a right-wing cause dating back to the George W. Bush administration by pardoning former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby.
In case that was before your time or it’s slipped your memory, Libby was Dick Cheney’s top staffer, who was convicted in 2007 of leaking the identity of an undercover CIA officer whose husband had displeased the Bush administration, and then lying about it. Here was the report from the Washington Post back then:
A federal jury convicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby yesterday of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s identity, culminating a four-year legal saga that transfixed official Washington and revealed the inner workings of the White House and the media.
After 10 days of deliberations, the 11 jurors found Vice-President Cheney’s former chief of staff guilty of four felony counts of making false statements to the FBI, lying to a grand jury and obstructing a probe into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. The jury acquitted him of one count of lying to the FBI about his conversation with a Time magazine reporter. Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-contra scandal nearly two decades ago.
When Libby exhausted his appeals and was looking squarely at some time wearing an orange jumpsuit, George W. Bush commuted his sentence. But despite furious lobbying from Cheney, W. did not pardon Libby before leaving office, and that left the old warhorse bitterly disappointed:
Mr. Cheney’s lobbying campaign on behalf of Mr. Libby was far more intense than previously known, with the vice-president bringing it up in countless one-on-one conversations with the president. They said Mr. Bush was unyielding to the end, already frustrated by a deluge of last-minute pardon requests from other quarters.
The dispute underscored the raw feelings of Mr. Cheney and other supporters of Mr. Libby, who believed that he was mistreated by prosecutors and ill served by a president who, in their view, failed to return Mr. Libby’s loyalty and sacrifice.
It’s not clear why Trump decided to take up this cold case. As ABC News, which broke the story, noted, Libby’s life had pretty much already returned to normal:
Since the conviction, Libby has since had his law license restored and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell restored his voting rights in 2013.
Maybe the ascension of Cheney’s old ally John Bolton in the White House helped raise the profile of Libby’s cause. Or perhaps the fact that he went down for lying to Trump’s new institutional enemy, the FBI, is a factor. Libby might also be viewed by Trump as another victim of a special prosecutor — a special prosecutor, by the way, who was chosen by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey. We don’t know just yet.
But we do know that this is Trump’s third pardon, and they do seem to fit a pattern. His first was for the famous nativist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a federal court order by continuing to racially profile Latinos. The second was for a sailor, Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of taking unauthorized photographs of a nuclear sub on which he served, and whose plight Trump often contrasted on the 2016 campaign trail to the kid-gloves treatment of Crooked Hillary Clinton’s alleged security breaches.
And now we have Scooter Libby, a third pardon beneficiary who is identified with the peculiar enthusiasms of the hard-core political right. It’s doubtful the pardon will win Trump many votes, but in the fever swamps of conservative opinion-leaders, it could pay off handsomely. And in the event Dick Cheney comes across any dirt about Trump, it’s a favor worth its weight in gold.