The Bush-Cheney presidency is drawing to the close of its actual tenure (not to be confused with its long term consequences). The news media and public are understandably focused on the transition process associated with the coming Obama-Biden administration, the dire state of the national economy, and continued threats to national security. In doing so, we should not forget I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. His name and eventual pardon by President Bush may become the last defining act of the Bush-Cheney presidency, the consummate victory for Vice President Richard B. Cheney, and may cast a long shadow on the character of U.S. public policy.
Scooter Libby, a former high-powered Washington attorney and political figure with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, is the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. Libby leaked the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, authored a truthful opinion editorial in the New York Times that exposed the Bush-Cheney administration lie about Saddam Hussein having purchased uranium from Niger. The Bush-Cheney White House used that lie to persuade Congress and the American public to support waging war against Iraq. After Wilson's op ed column exposed the lie, Scooter Libby led the attack against Wilson by claiming, among other things, that Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent, had sponsored Wilson's trip to Niger which led to his discovery and revelation that the Bush-Cheney White House was lying.
When U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate, Libby lied to the FBI and later to a grand jury, claiming that he learned about Plame's CIA identity from a member of the news media. In truth, Vice President Cheney told Libby about Plame's covert identity, and Libby leaked her identity to the media afterwards. A federal jury convicted Libby on charges of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice, and he was sentenced to thirty months in prison and a $250,000 fine. Libby immediately paid the fine, and President Bush promptly spared him from serving a prison sentence by commuting that part of his punishment. Libby then surrendered his license to practice law. He remains, for now at least, a convicted felon who lied about his role in exposing the identity of a covert U.S. intelligence operative.
Scooter Libby deliberately divulged the identity of a covert U.S. intelligence agent—a blatant violation of national security—and then lied about doing so. Many people believe that his deceit was undertaken to shield his boss, Vice President Cheney, from exposure. After all, Cheney told Libby about Plame's CIA identity. Cheney advocated taking the nation to war against Iraq and helped spread the lie that Saddam Hussein purchased uranium from Niger. It is reasonable to infer that Libby did Cheney's bidding when he exposed Plame's identity and that Libby lied to protect Cheney.
President Bush campaigned for office in 2000 promising to restore integrity to the presidency. Far from doing that, his presidency may be remembered as the most corrupt and incompetent in American history. The Bush Administration ignored intelligence warnings about Al Qaeda designs on attacking the United States weeks before the 9/11/01 attacks; it then used the attacks as the reason to suppress civil liberties through the USA PATRIOT Act. More than 4,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the Iraq War, and tens of thousands more have been physically and psychologically scarred. The Iraq War has cost almost 750 billion dollars, continues at ten billion more each month, has been marked by colossal fraud and other alleged misconduct by government contractors with political ties to the Bush-Cheney political operation, and has brought the image of the United States as a nation committed to respect for law and morality to its lowest point in recent memory. We may never know how many Iraqi civilians have been killed and maimed, but some observers estimate that the number exceeds 600,000.
If (when) President Bush pardons Scooter Libby as a political favor in the closing days or hours of his presidency, Vice President Cheney, Libby, and their neoconservative colleagues who lobbied for and have profitted from the Iraq War will celebrate the pardon and their private gains. The pardon will be the final defiant act by which the Bush-Cheney presidency demonstrates its colossal arrogance, duplicity, corruption, hypocrisy, and incompetence. It will also be further evidence why so many Americans no longer trust Republicans to govern the future of our nation. Americans now realize that for this group, public office is not viewed as a way to advance the national interest, but is merely a vehicle for hoarding private gains and settling personal vendettas.
Richard Nixon's presidency ended after Watergate in disgrace with his resignation. The Bush-Cheney presidency will end on a much more disgraceful note if Scooter Libby is pardoned.