As reports broke Friday that President Trump had issued a pardon of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, the immediate questions for many Americans were: Why Libby and why now?
“Before his conviction, Mr. Libby had rendered more than a decade of honorable service to the Nation as a public servant at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the White House. His record since his conviction is similarly unblemished, and he continues to be held in high regard by his colleagues and peers,” a White House press release announcing the pardon stated. “In light of these facts, the President believes Mr. Libby is fully worthy of this pardon. ‘I don’t know Mr. Libby,’ said President Trump, ‘but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.’”
Libby was convicted in 2007 of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in testimony he gave to a grand jury in what became known as “the Plame Affair.” The case against Libby stemmed from an investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters.
Libby’s 30-month prison sentence was commuted by then-President George W. Bush, his voting rights were restored and he was allowed to resume his legal practice. So why did Trump feel it imperative to act?
Message to Comey
The special counsel who investigated the leak of Plame’s identity was Patrick Fitzgerald, who, it turns out, was appointed by none other than James Comey, the then-deputy attorney general. Comey, whose new book on Trump hits stores on Tuesday, was fired by the president in 2017 for reasons the former FBI director alleges in his memoir.
For Plame, the message behind the pardon is clear:
“It’s very clear that this is a message he is sending, that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned,” she told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, was staunchly critical of Bush for not giving Libby a full pardon.
“If you think it was a miscarriage of justice, then you think it shouldn’t have gone to a jury to begin with,” Bolton said, according to the New York Times.
Bolton started his new job this week, and may have come to the White House with the pardon of Libby as a top priority.
Trump famously told his former national security adviser Michael Flynn to “stay strong” in the Russia investigation. Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the special counsel.
But Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, is facing multiple indictments and not cooperating. Could issuing a pardon to Libby be a way of signaling that those who “stay strong” will be rewarded?
It’s a small world
The idea for pardoning Libby may have also been presented by Victoria Toensing, who together with her husband, Joe diGenova, was briefly in line to join Trump’s legal team. Toensing, it turns out, also happens to represent Libby.
Joe diGenova, who recently considered joining Trump’s legal team confirms his wife, Victoria Toensing, who was also looking at joining the Trump legal team, is Scooter Libby’s attorney.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) April 13, 2018
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