“He Has Subverted the Rule of Law and.....
Thu Jul 5, 2007 12:56
 

 
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Thursday, July 5th, 2007
“He Has Subverted the Rule of Law and the System of Justice” -- Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson Reacts to Bush’s Commutation of Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jail Sentence in Outing of Valerie Plame

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http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/07/05/1415239

Three days after President Bush commuted the thirty-month jail sentence of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, we spend the hour with former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA operative after Wilson publicly challenged the Bush administration’s reasons for going to war on Iraq. Libby was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew Plame’s cover. Wilson says he believes Libby’s commutation was a quid pro quo for his silence on the role of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, whose administration he calls “corrupt from top to bottom.” [includes rush transcript] President Bush has refused to rule out the possibility of a full pardon for Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the CIA leak case. Bush spoke to reporters a day after commuting Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

* President Bush. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In response to Bush’s decision, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on July 11th to examine presidential clemency power. The panel’s chair, Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan, said: “The use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch.”

Libby was convicted in March, the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra scandal. He was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s thirty-month prison term came just five hours after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not put off serving his sentence while he appealed his conviction. That meant jail time for Libby was imminent, and the US Bureau of Prisons had already assigned him a prisoner identification number. Earlier on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence.

* White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

While Libby won’t see a day of jail time, he will still have to pay a $250,000 fine. But now there is a question of whether he will even have to serve the two years of supervised probation imposed by the trial judge. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday that under federal law, the probation period may be called into question with the commutation of the sentence.

In an ironic twist to the story, now the only person to serve jail time in the CIA leak case turns out to be a journalist. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for contempt of court in July 2005 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the leak. Miller refused to violate her oath of confidentiality to Libby and spent 85 days in prison. Libby was the only person charged in the federal investigation. No one was charged with the leak itself.

The whole story dates back over four years ago and centers around the invasion of Iraq. In July 2003, veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times refuting Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Wilson had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate those claims and found them to be false. The article forced the Bush administration to admit that a key justification for the invasion was false. Within a few days of its publication, the White House leaked the name of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, and her CIA identity.

Joe Wilson joins us today from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

* Joseph Wilson. Husband of outed undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. His book is called “The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity.” Wilson was the acting US ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War and was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the war began.

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JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush has refused to rule out the possibility of a full pardon for Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak case. Bush spoke to reporters a day after commuting Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence..

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, I had to make a very difficult decision. I weighted this decision carefully. I thought that the jury verdict should stand. I felt the punishment was severe. So I made a decision that would commute his sentence but leave in place a serious fine and probation. As to the future, I'm, you know -- rule nothing in and nothing out.

REPORTER: Mr. President, federal sentencing guidelines call for jail time in these kinds of cases of perjury and obstruction of justice. Why do you feel otherwise? And are you worried that this decision sends a signal that you won't go to jail if you lie to the FBI?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I took this decision very seriously on Mr. Libby. I considered his background, his service to the country, as well as the jury verdict. I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand. And I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand. But I felt like the thirty-month sentencing was severe and made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe is the right decision to make in this case, and I stand by it. Thank you all very much.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush speaking to reporters on Tuesday outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In response to Bush’s decision, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on July 11th to examine presidential clemency power. The panel’s chair, Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan said, "The use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch.”

Libby was convicted in March, the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra scandal. He was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the investigation into who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s thirty-month prison term came just five months after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not put off serving his sentence while he appealed his conviction. That meant jail time for Libbby was imminent, and the US Bureau of Prisons had already assigned him a prisoner identification number.

Earlier on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence.

TONY SNOW: Keep in mind that Scooter Libby has been convicted of a felony. That remains the same. He has a $250,000 fine to pay. That remains the same. He’s got two years of probation. That remains the same. A felony conviction has profound impacts on his ability to earn a living as a lawyer, because he's not going to be able to practice law, so this is hardly a slap on the wrist in terms of penalty. It is a very severe penalty.

JUAN GONZALEZ: While Libby won’t see a day of jail time, he will still have to pay a $250,000 fine. But now there’s a question of whether he will even have to serve the two years of supervised probation imposed by the trial judge. US District Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday that under federal law, the probation period may be called into question with the commutation of the sentence.

In an ironic twist to the story, now the only person to serve jail time in the CIA leak case turns out to be a journalist. Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for contempt of court in July 2005 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the leak. Miller refused to violate her oath of confidentiality to Libby and spent eighty-five days in prison. Libby was the only person charged in the federal investigation. No one was charged with the leak itself.

AMY GOODMAN: The whole story dates back over four years ago and centers around the invasion of Iraq. In July 2003, veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson published an op-ed in the New York Times, four years ago tomorrow, refuting Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Wilson had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate those claims and found them to be false. The article forced the Bush administration to admit a key justification for the invasion was false. Within a few days of its publication, the White House leaked the name of Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame and her CIA identity.

Joe Wilson joins us today to talk about the case. A veteran diplomat, Joe Wilson was the acting US ambassador to Iraq before the ’91 Gulf War and was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the war began. He is the author of The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity. Ambassador Wilson joins us from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with Valerie Plame and their two children now. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador Wilson.

JOSEPH WILSON: Nice to be back with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to be with you. First, your overall reaction: were you surprised to the erasing of Scooter Libby's prison sentence by President Bush?

JOSEPH WILSON: There is very little that this administration does these days that surprises me. I believe that the President is corrupt to the core, and his administration is corrupt from top to bottom. I think, in doing this, he has actively subverted the rule of law and the system of justice in our country, which has undergirded our democracy for 231 years. It's a disgrace. I believe that it casts a pall over him and his office and begs a question of what was the quid pro quo and whether or not he is now an active participant in an ongoing obstruction of justice in the cover up of the lies that they used to justify our invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in the first place.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why do you say a quid pro quo? Your perspective on why you think the President is engaged still in a cover-up?

JOSEPH WILSON: Well, clearly, at the time of Mr. Libby's conviction by a jury of his peers on four counts of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice, the special prosecutor in this case, representing the US government, said that Libby had blatantly and repeatedly lied, and as a consequence, sand had been thrown in the eyes of the umpire, by which he meant he was unable to get to the facts surrounding the underlying crime, the betrayal of the national security of our country. And Mr. Fitzgerald said that there remained a cloud over the Vice President and over his office.

Now, with his sentence commuted, Mr. Libby now no longer has any incentive whatsoever to begin to tell the truth to the special prosecutor, to wipe that sand from the umpire’s eyes, and to either lift that cloud over the Vice President or let it rain on him. So this is much more than just a commutation of Mr. Libby's sentence. This is a cover-up of the Vice President's role in this matter and quite possibly the role of the President and/or some of his senior White House advisers.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go through what this commutation of the sentence, the erasing, of the sentence means: taking away the incentive for Scooter Libby to speak to the prosecutor, cooperate with the prosecutor, since he won't be going to jail, but at the same time, since he wasn't pardoned at this point, if he’s called to testify before Congress, he can plead the Fifth Amendment, because he's still in the midst of his case. Is this accurate, Ambassador Wilson?

JOSEPH WILSON: I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding, from what I've read, is that that’s correct, that since he’s still in the appeals process, that he can still exercise his Fifth Amendment rights. I believe that can be overcome by offering him immunity from prosecution, which may be the only course that the Congress or this prosecutor now has in order to compel his testimony.

AMY GOODMAN: It also means -- I mean, President Bush has said now for years that he, Vice President Cheney won't comment on this case while it's in litigation, and without doing the pardon right now -- perhaps it's to come, since President Bush has left that open -- Bush and Cheney continue not to have to comment on the case, the issue of President Bush having said that anyone in the White House who leaked your wife's name would be fired, would be out.

JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think that that would be a patently absurd assertion. The President of the United States, in his statement, actually recognized the validity of the verdict, so for all intents and purposes the investigation on the facts is over. Anything to do with the appeal would be on matters of law. The President, I think, owes the American people a full explanation of his role and of the role of the Vice President in this betrayal of the national security of our country. And he should begin by instructing Mr. Fitzgerald to release the transcript of his interview with the special prosecutor and the interview of the Vice President, as well as other interviews of senior government officials. In fact, I would go further, I would argue that he should call on the special prosecutor to release the transcripts and all evidence that he has gathered in this investigation, so that the American people can assess for themselves what it is that is this cloud over the Vice President that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has talked about repeatedly.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Joe Wilson is staying with us for the hour. We’re going to go to break now. When we come back, we'll go back in time to President H. W. Bush, the President’s father, and his relationship with Ambassador Wilson when Ambassador Wilson was the acting ambassador in Iraq in the first Gulf War. Stay with us.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador, I'd like to ask you, the defenders of President Bush’s actions say that the presidential pardon power doesn't have any limits to it, and obviously whether it's in the Clinton administration or prior administrations, there’s been a lot of political operation in terms of the use of the pardon power. What's your response to that?

JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I think that's probably right. Again, I'm not a lawyer, but I think it does beg the question as to whether the President, in so doing, became an active participant in an ongoing cover-up and obstruction of justice and thereby brought himself into violation of the law. And clearly the appropriate remedy for that would be impeachment. This issue was discussed by the founding fathers. James Madison, I believe it was, and I think George Mason were the two who discussed this at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Clearly, the hearing next week chaired by Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee, I suspect, will want to get into these matters. I hope that they have constitutional lawyers amongst their witnesses.

AMY GOODMAN: How does this affect your lawsuit, you and your wife Valerie Plame's law

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