No Liberty for Libby

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 5, 2007 | Go to article overview
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No Liberty for Libby


Byline: Bruce Fein, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Lewis "Scooter" Libby deserves a stiff prison term to deter his erstwhile Bush administration colleagues, for example, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House political guru Karl Rove, from equivocating with Congress and the courts. A stiff punishment is imperative also to honor the rule of law, the nation's crown jewel.

Libby committed his crimes while chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, serving under oath to support the Constitution of the United States. He was a role model for youths because of his position and prestige. His prevarications to the FBI and grand jury were reminiscent of former President Clinton's perjury and obstruction of justice that occasioned his impeachment by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton should reject Mr. Libby's plea for an anemic sentence of probation.

Nothing is as dangerous to the Constitution's checks and balances and protections against government abuses as a belief among high-ranking officials that they are above the law and may lie or connive with impunity. Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis sermonized in Olmstead v. United States (1928): "In a government of laws, existence of government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites everyman to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Truthful testimony is the lifeblood of the rule of law. Justice John Paul Stevens elaborated in ABF Freight System, Inc. v. NLRB (1994): "False testimony in a formal proceeding is intolerable. We must neither reward nor condone such a 'flagrant affront' to the truth-seeking function of adversary proceedings." Yet Libby, thoroughly schooled in his constitutional obligations, lied to both the FBI and a grand jury during special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA nexus. Libby was convicted of false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice. Mr. Fitzgerald, a highly regarded Republican United States attorney, was appointed by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Libby was not the victim of a political witch hunt.

Like Mr. Clinton, the vice president's former chief of staff has sneered at confessing to the reprehensibility of his wrongdoing, an attitude that encourages imitation. Libby also defiled his constitutional oath, which further demonstrates prison would not be incommensurate with his crimes. The first article of impeachment voted against Mr. Clinton nicely illustrates the gravity of Libby's lies to the FBI and grand jury.

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