I will be surprised if President Bush pardons Scooter Libby. As Ezra says, Bush’s famous “loyalty” only goes one way —

It’s long been his M.O to cut loose even the most faithful of servants after they outlive their usefulness. And Scooter Libby has definitely outlived his usefulness. To pardon him would refocus the blame onto the presidency, make it clear the administration felt indebted to an underling doing their bidding. That’s all true, of course, save for the indebted part. Libby was doing their bidding and now it is done. End of transaction.

Well, almost. Peter Baker and Carol D. Leonnig report for the Washington Post:

President Bush said yesterday that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby until the legal process has run its course, deflecting pressure from supporters of the former White House aide to pardon him for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Scooter’s lawyers plan to seek a new trial. As long as there is even a possibility of more litigation, the White House can continue to use the “ongoing legal proceeding” excuse not to answer questions about Libby. That’s another reason I don’t believe we’ll see a pardon at least until after the 2008 elections.

Much is being made of Libby juror Ann Redington‘s desire to see Libby pardoned. I watched the Hardball segment in which she said this. My impression was that she was still thinking with Juror’s Mind, striving mightily to be fair and impartial. I’d be more interested in what she has to say about six months from now.

So Redington didn’t bother me nearly as much as Kate O’Beirne, sitting next to her, did. Kate thinks the jury tried its best but came up with the wrong verdict. Libby is, of course, innocent, no matter what the jury says. Just as Bill Clinton is guilty, even though Paula Jones lost her suit against him. See, courts are irrelevant. All you need to know to judge guilt or innocent are the political leanings of the accused. Anyone Kate judges to be one o’ hers must be innocent.

Hardball producers could save wear and tear on Kate if they just keep an inflatable Kate doll handy. Inflate it, stuff it into a chair, and play prerecorded talking points. ‘Twould be no better or worse than the real Kate. In fact, they might be doing that already.

At this point I don’t much care if Scooter sees jail time or not. If he were pardoned, it would not be like the pardons of Richard Nixon or Caspar Weinberger, whose pardons saw to it they were never tried. Avoiding those trials amounted to a cover up. But we’ve had Scooter’s trial; we know what happened. And Scooter’s just a factotum. It’s his masters I’m interested in.

Speaking of factotums (factoti?), David Brooks broods over the Libby trial today. He begins —

Three years ago I said some pessimistic things on TV about the war in Iraq. Scooter Libby called the next day. Methodically, though with a touch of wryness in his voice, he ran down a list of the hopeful developments he thought I was ignoring. Then as we were signing off, he interrupted himself and said: “Anyway, that’s the positive spin. I can do the negative spin just as well.”

Of course, Brooks was content with the positive spin.

Over the years, we had two lunches and about a half-dozen phone interviews, and he was more discreet each time. I would sit there — learning nothing — and think, We know the Bushies are not like us Jews because they’re willing to appear less knowledgeable than they really are, but can Scooter Libby be like this, too? [emphasis added]

Is that or is that not a damn weird thing to have written?

Yet it was hard not to like the guy — for his intelligence, his loyalty and his meticulous attention to ethical niceties. (At lunch he wouldn’t let me pick up the tab. He’d lay a $20 bill on the table to cover his half.)

Brooks goes around buying lunches for government officials? (I started to write “cheap lunches,” but I guess that shows I’ve lived in New York City too long.)

Yet that doesn’t begin to cover the sadness that this trial arouses, for the proceedings have revealed the arc of what the administration was and could have been.

Cue the violin music.

When you think back to the White House of 2003, the period the trial explores, you will discover a White House consumed by a feverish sense of mission.

Staff members in those days went to work wondering whether this would be the day they would die. There was a sense that any day a bomb might wipe out downtown Washington.

Hold that thought.

Senior officials were greeted each morning by intense intelligence briefings. On June 14, 2003, for example, Libby received a briefing with 27 items and 11 pages of terrorist threats. Someone once told me that going from the president’s daily briefing to the next event on Mr. Bush’s schedule, which might be a photo-op with a sports team, was like leaving “24” and stepping into “Sesame Street.” No wonder administration officials were corporate on the outside but frantic within.

The White House culture was also defined by the staff’s passionate devotion to the president. Bush’s speeches after 9/11 inspired a sense of intense connection, and the emotional bonds were kept perpetually aroused by the onset of war, by the fierce rivalries with the State Department and the C.I.A., and by the administration’s core creed, that everything it does must be transformational.

It was a time, in short, of grand goals but also of discombobulating and repressed emotion. [emphasis added]

But those intense emotions, especially the fear, not to mention a stew of underlying character pathologies, were driving the “grand goals.”

Today, the White House culture is less intense. The staff’s relationship to the president has simmered down, from devotion to mere admiration.

How precious.

Today, the White House staff is less disciplined but more attractive. There is no party line in private conversations. The trick now is to figure out what administration policy really is, because you can now talk to three different people and get three different versions on any topic. There’s more conversation and more modesty. The vice president has less gravitational pull, and there has been a talent upgrade in post after post: Josh Bolten as chief of staff, Henry Paulson at Treasury. If Bob Gates had been the first defense secretary, the world would be a much better place today. [emphasis added]

Then in the next paragraph, Brooks writes,

The administration has also lost its transformational mind-set. After cruel experience, there’s a greater tendency to match ends to means, and to actually think about executing a policy before you embark upon it.

Wow, thinking. Just imagine anyone in the White House actually thinking. But they can’t be thinking real hard, since no one has any idea in hell what Bush’s policies actually are.

There’s much more tolerance for serious freethinkers — the Johns Hopkins scholar Eliot Cohen was just hired at State.

In his book Fiasco, Thomas Ricks identified Eliot Cohen as a supporter of Paul Wolfowitz. (See p. 16.) He was one of the military experts assembled in December for the purpose of telling Bush the Iraq War is still “winnable” and that it was OK to ignore the Iraq Study Group recommendations. So much for serious freethinking. The Bushies are drawing the same tainted water from the same old well.

In short, this administration’s capacities have waxed as its power has waned. And you can’t help but feel that today’s White House would have been much better at handling the first stages of the war on terror. But that’s the perpetual tragedy of life: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk. Wisdom comes from suffering and error, and when the passions die down and observation begins.

I picture Brooks with a three-day beard, crying into a gin bottle in some seedy Washington watering hole. How tragic it is — the Bush White House, after six years of bleeping up the planet, is finally getting its act together, even though no two of them can agree on what the act is. If only they’d done it sooner. Like six years ago. But now that they have embarked on the serious mission of governing — thinking about it, even — it’s too late, and the owl of Minerva has flown off with the mouse of accomplishment in its beak. And Brooks has the sorry task of having to write a column about it. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Yes, so tragic. Pass the gin.

29 thoughts on “Pardon?

  1. I saw last night’s Hardball also, thought Ann Redington (as Chris stated) is a “nice “person.She also seems to be a smart lady. In a way I can understand the sympathy for Libby, because he is the fall guy, and even though he may get a pardon just before Bush leaves office, Libby is essentially destroyed personally and professionally, at least until his book get published and he goes on the talk show circuit. It will be interesting to see what happens next.Will this thing snow-ball to Rove or Cheney? How can Bush not do something to punish those involved after his rant about punishing “leakers”. Tune in again tomorrow, same batshit time, same bat shit channel!
    Kate O’Beirne, OMG. That’s all I have to say about her. Bush could crap in her hot tub and I’m quite sure she would regard it as a major accomplishment.Scooter found guilty by a jury? No problems, he is still innocent.
    Brooks’ comment about “us Jews” is just plain strange, and adds fuel to the fire concerning a neo-con Jewish conspiracy.Let’s see what happens at the AIPAC conference which I believe begins next week.
    Colbert is a crack-up! ‘Loved the video!
    Here’s to free thinking! Pass the absinthe. Another great post Maha……

  2. Is that or is that not a damn weird thing to have written?

    He’s got a nice life, but he’d love to be Ann Coulter. Or, more precisely, he’d like to be the “nice” Ann Coulter — Woody Allen to her Don Rickles, Bob Newhart to her Lenny Bruce. (Sorry for the insult to Lenny Bruce and Don Rickles, but I think that’s how he thinks.)

  3. Just as Bill Clinton is guilty, even though Paula Jones lost her suit against him.


    From CNN:

    The bulk of the $850,000 settlement in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against President Clinton will go toward attorneys’ fees, while Jones will collect $200,000, according to one of the attorneys.

    …In her lawsuit, Mrs. Jones claimed that Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas, made a crude advance in a room at a Little Rock hotel in 1991. Clinton denies the accusation.

    The case was dismissed in April. While that dismissal was on appeal, Clinton and Mrs. Jones settled.

    “Lost”? Reads like the dismissal was still being appealed when it was settled with cash for her. Maybe “legally unresolved” works better.

    All you need to know to judge guilt or innocent are the political leanings of the accused.

    A self-awareness moment?

  4. By the way, I’d love to know why you think Bush doesn’t feel the need to placate his base by issuing a pardon. My first thought was that he’d definitely do it (late on Friday before Memorial Day), then I got the idea (cockamamie, it seems now) that the Bushies are trying to rev up right-wing rage by letting Scooter sit out there unpardoned … but still, I don’t get it. He can’t sink lower in the general public’s esteem if he pardon’s Scooter — most people don’t see why he of all people was the guy who had to pay for this war. And the base is screaming bloody murder. So why not a pardon?

  5. Brooks at his best. Wow.

    How telling is that odd ‘us Jews’ line, in which Brooks is astounded to encounter someone NOT pretending to be more knowledgeable than he really was, which is in fact Brook’s own constant posture. How refreshing to know that on some level, he’s aware that he actually knows less than he pretends. If only he would spare us the pretense, but that’s what makes his column and TV appearances go.

    And how curious, that while painting the picture of the ‘good ol’ days’ when the administration was on its game, Brooks fails to make note of all we’ve learned from the Libby trial, that rather than being valiant warriors actually confronting the threats to our country, the administration and ‘nice guy’ Libby were engaged in a petty, vindictive and manipulative effort to smear one actual public servant by destroying the career of another.

    Where was Libby’s ‘meticulous attention to ethical niceties’ when he was spreading Plame’s name around, or when lying to investigators? Can Brooks imagine that the nice guy he thinks he knows so well after two whole lunches and a handful of phone calls might actually be a manipulator and a felon?

    Does Brooks betray any sense that the “feverish sense of mission” he describes was feverish in the sense of ‘delusional’? That, had they spent more time listening to Wilson instead of attacking him, they might have spent less time worrying about a bomb blowing up their offices? That it has taken thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and incalculable damage to our nation’s standing to teach the administration to actually consider reality in policy actions?

    He does acknowledge the possibility that the current White House might have done better than the old, but he attributes this to some force of nature, the ‘perpetual tragedy of life’. Oh, Minerva! A classical humbling – quick, fetch the poets.

    Yes, how very tragic that there was no way the administration and its Brooksian sycophants could have somehow known years ago that their fevered devotion to the President and commitment to unrealistic policies (to say nothing of vicious attacks upon any naysayer) might one day come a cropper. O cruel fate, that there were none who could see!

    If only Brooks had himself developed ‘wisdom’ from ‘suffering and error’. He might realize that the classical allusion here is properly Cassandra, for many foresaw this end, but were not believed.

    One message of the Libby trial is just how much this disbelief was a “grand goal” of the administration, and its cheerful lunch dates like Brooks. There was no grand, fated tragedy here, merely grandiose, venal criminality. And in Brooks’ case, willful naivete.

  6. Tom Maguire: Nice try, no cigar. The judge dismissed the suit, saying that even if what Jones alleged was true, it would not rise to the legal standard required to prove a federal sexual harassment claim. Jones’s lawyers were going to appeal; it’s obvious Clinton threw money at them just to keep them from wasting any more of his time.

    That said, certainly Clinton is not innocent of extramerital shenanigans. I never believed Jones because her story kept “improving” over time from its beginnings in the Arkansas Project. Jenifer and Monica are another story. But the fact remains that Jones lost her suit.

  7. factotums (factoti?)

    If I remember my high-school Latin correctly (lo, these many years later) the plural is factota.

  8. Holy crap,, where to start?????

    Ok…the pardon thing..Here is the deal.It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what they are saying publicly about any potential pardon, but what matters are the wink wink nod nods going on behind closed doors.bush and cheney have much to lose, lets not forget that.Little scooter knows some chit now.Ewwweee what we could learn from that boy!!Imagine the things he could tell us.So you can bet they are going to want our little scooter to feel real comfortable because his unhappiness could cost them a bundle.If scooter feels like he might see some time he may talk.One who doesn’t trust bush might even be worried for scooter if he doesn’t already have some unspoken deal worked out for himself.And if he does I wouldn’t trust bush not to double cross him.It may sound paranoid, but bush has given me nothing but reasons not to trust him.They are a dirty bunch it is just a fact.
    “Is that or is that not a damn weird thing to have written?”

    ahhhhh yeah…very!.
    And the big one that almost made my head explode was brooks idea that todays whitehouse is somehow more prepared…Was he out of town during Katrina?????Has he missed the mess in Iraq???? Holy crap just yesterday the headlines read”tornado victims wonder where FEMA is” Todays white house is a disgrace…Heaven help us all if even the smallest thing happens..bush is prepared to hide in a bunker and watch us all die perhaps …One would like to tell brooks not to give up his duct tape and plastic just yet.
    Better people in low level jobs won’t save us from the rot at the top of the heap..what kind of pills does one take to have such a distorted view of reality?
    I am so glad brooks feels so safe.One almost gets the impression bush himself ,after his brilliant hiring skills will fly in , cape and all and personally whisk brooks away, saving him from whatever evil lurks.It just makes the mind wobble.Who is he trying to convince? Himself or his readers?

  9. Great post. Never heard Brooks defined with better precision, although I have to admit that for once I actually learned something new from him.

    Bush’s team spent at least two years driven by fear.

    I think it’s important to remember that. After all, I didn’t live in DC or NYC, but I recall the same feeling quite well. Only for me, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop at key moments: Thanksgiving, New Years, Easter, Independence Day, the anniversary of Hiroshima’s bombing. Except after that first tense year, that fear went away. No second shoe was coming. Al Qaida really did spend years to fire its one best shot.

    Brooks, however, suggests the White House crew continued to act like a regiment outnumbered and under siege. That explains a lot that I’d never imagined: they were in thrall to the spectre of their own creation, crafting policy rooted in ideology but nurtured by emotionalism instead of reason.

    In short, Bin Laden owned them for a full two years, possibly longer.

    I still can’t believe that of Cheney. I can believe it about all the rest. So there really was truth to the charge that they were chicken hawks. Bin Laden had them by the balls and every time he released a video, they ducked, then found a new target to attack with their scatterguns.

    Can you imagine how much worse it would have been in there actually had been a second shoe? Martial law. A nuclear attack on Pakistan.

    The word ‘transformational’ is especially revealling. We weren’t led by Cool Hand Luke, but by a little Napoleon witha Messianic Complex.

    And now he’s just been humbled back to Eddie Haskell level. Hopefully.

  10. By the way, Colin Powell’s right hand man Lawrence Wilkerson said that George Packer “got it right” in Assassin’s Gate:

    Read George Packer’s book The Assassin’s Gate if you haven’t already. George Packer, a New Yorker, reporter for The New Yorker, has got it right. I just finished it and I usually put marginalia in a book but, let me tell you, I had to get extra pages to write on.

    And I wish, I wish I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics than he’s got. But if you want to read how the Cheney Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And, of course, there are other names in there, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Frank said was stupidest blankety blank man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man.

  11. “Brooks goes around buying lunches for government officials? (I started to write “cheap lunches,” but I guess that shows I’ve lived in New York City too long.)”

    I had a similar thought…except that it was that perhaps Libby was TOO Cheap to pay the full cost of his actual meal…and settled for a token *Andrew Jackson* instead. [He’s such a man of “honest integrity” you see! Barf!]

  12. Woody Allen to her Don Rickles, Bob Newhart to her Lenny Bruce. (Sorry for the insult to Lenny Bruce and Don Rickles, but I think that’s how he thinks.) – Steve M.

    I know this is pickayunish, but given who’s friends with whom, don’t you mean to say Bob Newhart to her Don Rickles? Or do you not with to imply that Bobo wants to be friends with Coulter but rather a foil on a professional (rather than also personal) basis only?

    Anyway, since Bobo brought it up, being Bob Newhart to her Don Rickles would be an interesting reversal of ethno-religious roles and stereotypes, nu?

  13. Missed the head of cabbage. I want Libby to serve some time. Someone needs to pay for the transgressions of this administration. Isn’t it a Republican phrase “if you do the crime, you do the time.” The whole affair did undermine the national security of the United States–shouldn’t that be a big no-no.

  14. Bush loyalty to others is exactly this deep: self protection. If a pardon of Libby shuts the door to further questions Darth Cheney could be asked, a pardon will occur. Bush does not care what we think of him or how much stink a pardon will make.

  15. In the language of imperial Rome: factotum/factota, medium/media, datum/data. In the language of imperial Washington: medium/factota, factotum/media, data/schmata.

    Great post, Maha. It reminds us that the Bush regime isn’t a stand alone problem. It’s a symptom of a polity that can accord respectability to clowns like Brooks.

  16. Tom Maguire: Nice try, no cigar.

    I’m fairly certain I don’t want the cigar on offer.

    I agree that Clinton had plenty of money from friends her were happy to shut Ms. Jones up.

    However, per the WaPo:

    In a ruling that shocked both sides, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected all of Jones’s claims stemming from her 1991 encounter with Clinton in a hotel suite.


    The settlement foreclosed the possibility that Clinton’s personal life would be reopened for public inspection at a sensational trial had the lawsuit dismissed in April been reinstated, as many lawyers involved believed it would be.

    but then again:

    While many legal experts said Jones faces an uphill battle, the case could make its way again to the Supreme Court,

    As to the payment, Ithought it was from Clinton’s buddies – my bad:

    President Clinton sent an $850,000 check to Paula Jones yesterday, finally closing out the sexual harassment lawsuit that continues to imperil his presidency, and in a surprise move, financed nearly half the settlement with his own money.

    To come up with the funds he agreed to pay two months ago, the president had to take $375,000 out of a blind trust containing investments for him and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The other $475,000 came from a separate deal with an insurance company that funded part of his legal defense and agreed to buy out the president’s personal liability policy.

    I thijnk it was a fact that she had suffered a legal setback, but the case was clearly far from over and had uncertain (but not hopeless!) prospects.

    Sorry for the no-links – this WaPo Special Report is helpful.

  17. Tom — I realize that to you Clinton will be eternally guilty of all kinds of malfeasance no matter what the courts say. And I still think Jones’s story had holes you could drive a truck through, and she just wanted attention and money. And the court dismissed her case. Regarding the threatened appeal: A settlement is not an admission of guilt. Companies pay off people with lawsuits all the time because it’s often cheaper than paying the lawyers to fight the case, even if the company doesn’t think it’s in the wrong. I suspect that was true in Clinton’s case.

    As far as the law is concerned, as it stands Jones had no case, and Clinton is innocent of the charge.

    But if we’re going to argue whether there is or is not an “underlying crime” that was lied about in Libby’s case, the fact remains that, according to Fitzgerald’s statements when he filed the indictment, Libby’s obstructions were the reason he couldn’t build a case.

    In his press conference announcing the indictment, Fitzgerald compared Libby’s obstruction to sand thrown in his eyes. Because of the sand, he couldn’t see if there was a crime.

    There’s been a lot of blather on television that Plame-Wilson didn’t fit the definition of “covert” in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act because she hadn’t been working outside the country, and since she wasn’t “covert” there was no crime. But if you read the actual indictment, Fitzgerald was talking about leaking classified information as covered by various statutes and regulations, such as Title 18, United States Code, Section 793. And, the indictment said, “At all relevant times from January 1, 2002 through July 2003, Valerie Wilson was employed by the CIA, and her employment status was classified.”

    That’s why “she wasn’t covert, so there was no crime” isn’t an argument. Whenever right-wing hacks get on television and make this argument, they are just trying to throw sand in the eyes of the public. It’s a variation of the Big Lie, IMO. (My reading of the IIPA tells me she might have fit the definition of “covert” under B ii, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    That’s why it’s way ignorant to go around claiming that there was “no underlying crime” in the Libby case. In this case we don’t know if there was a crime or not, and Libby’s obstruction is one reason we don’t know.

  18. Kate O’Beirne, OMG. That’s all I have to say about her.

    If spouses are fair game, as she seemed to assert, then it’s up to Tweety to ask her about hubby Jim, chief hirer for the CPA in Iraq. As for Bobo, the $20 bill anecdote suggests that he can’t get off the Bobo thing re: no entree over a twenty in red-state-land.

    In pragmatic terms, the ‘no underlying crime’ blather is irrelevant: Fitzgerald prosecuted a case he knew wouldn’t be buried in CIPA or executive privilege. Poor Tom’s a-cold.

  19. Pingback: Pardon?

Comments are closed.