Byron York on the Pardons Of Scooter Libby and Susan McDougal

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The often-excellent reporter Byron York has opined that only a full pardon would have made sense for the felon Irving Libby. Here's his argument:

President Bush came up with a cramped, limited statement, commuting Libby's jail term while keeping (at least for now) his conviction, a $250,000 fine that he has already paid and two years of probation. One didn't have to read too far between the lines to guess that the president believes Libby to be guilty of perjury; just for good measure, Bush threw in some good words for Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. The problem, the president said, wasn't that Fitzgerald had gone on a three-year fishing expedition that netted only Libby, or that the Iraq war's foes were using the CIA leak case to rehash their grievances against the original decision to invade; rather, the problem was simply that U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton's sentence was "excessive."

"We specifically don't want an executive to re-try a case and decide he knows better than the judge or jury," says Vin Weber, a sometime White House adviser. "We want the executive to take a broader national interest into account -- something that needs to be taken into account that a judge or jury couldn't properly take into account."

In other words, if Bush had pardoned Libby because the CIA leak probe never should have happened, fine. But don't play judge, Mr. President -- that's not your branch.

The reason for a pardon was that the case was political, should never have been brought and deserved presidential contempt for its sentence. Now here is how York saw the Clinton pardon of Susan McDougal in 2001, a woman who had already served three months for one Whitewater charge and then eighteen months in jail for refusing to talk further. It makes for a fascinating contrast:

There has been speculation for years that Clinton would pardon McDougal - but it didn't come until the morning of January 20, just two hours before Clinton left office. The next day, the new ex-president, explaining his decisions in several controversial cases, told reporters, "You're not saying that these people didn't commit the offense. You're saying they paid, they paid in full, and they've been out long enough after their sentence to show they're good citizens, so they ought to have a chance to get full citizenship."

How that applies to McDougal is not entirely clear. Yes, she paid a price-three and a half months in jail for Whitewater, and 18 months for refusing to talk. But she has never admitted any wrongdoing, never expressed any remorse, and never stopped condemning the prosecutors who tried her case. Marc Rich showed a certain amount of respect for the law by running away from it. Susan McDougal chose to stay home and thumb her nose.

But Libby, just like McDougal, has admitted no wrongdoing, and showed contempt for the justice system by lying under oath. But strikingly unlike McDougal, he has served no time, and never will. But it's okay to give him a total pardon, but not ok for Clinton to do so in far clearer case. Clear now?

(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty.)