Libby in line for pardon? It's happened before - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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Libby in line for pardon? It's happened before

Oorah! Oorah! Oorah!

That's the chant I thought I heard wafting out of the White House shortly after I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - Vice President Cheney's chief of staff - was indicted Friday on five criminal charges.

For Marines, who pride themselves in not leaving their casualties on the battlefield, "Oorah" is a spirited cry of camaraderie and commitment to duty. For the Bush White House, it could signal that history is about to repeat itself.

Prosecutors say Libby obstructed justice and lied to federal investigators who are probing the outing of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer. Her identity was revealed in an effort to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Wilson raised the hackles of some Bush backers when he contested the president's claim that Saddam Hussein's regime tried to buy a nuclear weapons component in Africa. Keeping Saddam from building a nuclear bomb was one major reason Bush gave for launching a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

If convicted, Libby could be imprisoned for 30 years and ordered to pay $1.25 million in fines. That's a steep fall from the perch he has occupied for close to five years. It's also the kind of casualty that Republican presidents have been reluctant to desert.

The "tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former president of the United States," President Ford proclaimed in 1974 when he pardoned Richard Nixon. This action came a month after Nixon resigned his presidency for his complicity in the coverup of a GOP-ordered break-in of the Democratic Party's headquarters.


Then in December 1992, less than a month before his presidency ended, George H.W. Bush pardoned six officials of the Reagan administration. They were casualties of the Iran-contra affair, the scandal that unfolded on Ronald Reagan's watch when arms were secretly sold to Iran. The proceeds from those sales were funneled to rebels trying to topple a democratically elected government in Nicaragua.

Bush's pardon wiped out three guilty pleas, a conviction and two trials. In doing so, the elder Bush also eliminated the possibility that his own role in the affair as vice president might cause him further trouble.


The closest any recent Democratic president came to that kind of chutzpah was in January 2001, when Bill Clinton pardoned Susan McDougal. She served time in jail for refusing to answer questions about Clinton's alleged involvement in a failed land deal that happened long before he entered the White House.

Bush's Iran-contra pardons were much more closely linked to the job he was elected to do. In taking this action, the elder Bush was most generous in his praise of former Reagan secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who the special prosecutor thought might be able to link Bush to some of the scandal's misdeeds.

Weinberger, he said in his pardon message, "is a true American patriot" who "has rendered long and extraordinary service to our country."

Instead of "criminalizing" aides' wrongdoings that were the outgrowth of policy differences, Bush said, "The proper target is the president, not his subordinates; the proper forum is the voting booth, not the courtroom."


On Friday, the current Oval Office occupant sounded a similar refrain. "Today, I accept the resignation of Scooter Libby. Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country. He served the vice president and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history," Bush said.

Now the question is whether Bush will follow in the footsteps of other GOP presidents and repay Libby for his service - and possibly shut down a criminal investigation of his administration - by granting him a pardon.

DeWayne Wickham writes weekly for USA TODAY.

Thanks, D.

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