Scott Cavanagh
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The "Decider" decides he's above the law

July 4, 2007

George W. Bush’s total disregard for the institutions and laws that govern this country hit an all-time high Monday with the brazen and despicable commutation of former White House aide and vice-presidential chief-of-staff Scooter Libby’s two-and-a-half-year jail sentence – just hours after a federal judge ruled that Libby would have to serve his time awaiting his appeal behind bars.

For those of you who are either unfamiliar with the Libby case or confused by the endless amount of right-wing propaganda concerning the “persecution” of poor Scooter, lets take a moment to review the events that led to yesterday’s stunning stretch of presidential powers.

In his January 28, 2003 State-of-the-Union address, George Bush, as part of his effort to convince the public of the need to go to war in Iraq, told the American people these 16 words “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That was not true. That claim had been proven false months earlier by British intelligence reports. This fact is not in dispute. The Bush administration later claimed that the 16 words accidentally made their way into the heavily vetted State-of-the-Union speech, and that the president simply read them off the teleprompter (who is this guy Ron Burgundy?).

Joe Wilson is a former U.S. Ambassador and 30-year veteran of the Foreign Service. A man highly praised by President George H. Walker Bush for his heroism during the first Gulf War, Wilson is married to Valerie Plame – a former undercover CIA operative assigned to operations controlling the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In 2002, one year prior to Bush’s speech, the CIA sent Wilson on a fact-finding mission to the African nation of Niger to check on the validity of the British reports on the uranium sale claims. He did so, found them to be bogus, and reported his findings to the CIA. (Listen to Wilson discuss the case with Keith Olbermann)

When Wilson later heard Bush blatantly lie to the American people about something so profound as taking them to war, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times detailing his trip to Niger and the fact that the Bush White House knew the uranium claim to be false.

Soon after that, life-long conservative operative Robert Novak exposed Plame’s covert status, the very thing that kept her, her fellow agents and all of those involved in cooperating in the undercover operation alive, to the public in an editorial.

How did this happen? Who was behind the “outing” of an undercover agent – an offense the elder Bush called “treason?" Who would pay the price for passing a virtual death sentence upon the brave CIA sources and local collaborators that helped Plame and her associates conduct covert operations in the world’s most dangerous places? How many people did this vicious political hatchet move kill?

That was the gravity of the questions that led to the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and the statement by the president that anyone in his government involved in the outing of Plame would be fired immediately.

Fitzgerald, a lifelong Republican and supporter of the president, did his job. Despite non-stop attacks on his investigation from every corner of right-wing world, the prosecutor examined witness after witness – everyone from lobbyists and politicos to Novak and NBC’s Tim Russert. After nearly two years of investigation, all evidence (not to mention motive) pointed to one place – the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, the man who records indicate called Valerie Plame’s covert status “fair game."

The investigation got as high up the food chain as Libby – Cheney’s right hand man and former aide to both the president and VP. When witness after witness, including Russert, contradicted Libby’s testimony, he was charged with perjury, obstructing justice and making false statements. The charges were simple to understand. The witnesses and evidence led to the VP’s office and Libby. Libby took his orders from Cheney and Bush. When caught lying, he fell on his sword and awaited a light sentence and eventual pardon from the very guys he was lying for. No need to rat-out the big boys when no real punishment awaited.

And why would Libby have chosen any other route? Has anyone friendly to this administration ever paid a price for his or her mistakes or malfeasance? Who in the current leadership has taken responsibility for the thousands of dead American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced Iraqis and the fracturing of time-tested alliances and friendships? Who took the fall for having a crony with no experience in charge of FEMA while New Orleans drowned and the president continued his record-setting vacation pace? Have the boys at Halliburton paid a price for overcharging our servicemen for gasoline while providing them with contaminated water? Has anyone taken the fall for the adoption of torture as a national policy and the abandonment of Habeas Corpus? How about the unwarranted tapping of our phones and opening of our mail?

No, it seems as if Bush and his cronies really believe they walk between the raindrops on everything. Heck, screw up in this administration and it looks like a career move. Ignore briefings about planes flying into buildings – you get to be Secretary of State. Provide trumped-up information that leads us into an unpopular war – you get a medal of freedom. Tell the country that the Iraq War ($440 billion at last count) will be financed by Iraqi oil revenue – you’re named president of The World Bank. Write the policy condoning torture and you get to be Attorney General.

But something happened on the way to Scooter’s acquittal and debut on the lecture circuit. Somebody refused to back down and play ball with the Bushies. Who had the guts to get in the way?
The American people. Twelve jurors and a judge did what cowed journalists, a petrified congress and a legion of bloggers could not accomplish in six years – they stopped the bullies in their tracks.

That is why Judge Reggie Walton’s decisions, first to sentence Libby to 30 months in jail and then to conclude that Scooter needed to spend his time awaiting appeal behind bars, were so important. Walton’s rulings sent strong and pointed messages to the White House that these were serious crimes that warranted real jail time and that the people’s decision to punish Libby would not be derailed by allowing the defendant to skate free during a lengthy appeals process that ended in a Bush pardon. No, as far as Walton was concerned, Libby had stonewalled this case from the beginning in an effort to protect his bosses – that was the reason for the charges in the first place. If Scooter was going to sit on his hands and wait for the pardon, he was going to do so wearing a jumpsuit and occupying a cell. A few months of prison food and gang showers would test Libby’s resolve. Libby might not give up the real perpetrators in the next 30 months, but at least he was paying the price for his misdeeds, while making Rove and Co. sweat a little every day, waiting for loyal Scooter to crack.

Then George Bush did what he does so well. He gave us all the finger. It’s his answer for everything. The vast majority of you want us out of Iraq? Tough luck, Bush wants us there. You want universal health care? Bush and his cronies say no. Upset about them opening your mail? Lying about the cost of the prescription drug program? Pulling out of Kyoto and raping the environment? Too bad, he’s the decider.

On Monday Bush made one more decision. Yes, the great leader that “decided” to respond to 911 by attacking a country that produced none of the hijackers; who “concluded” that telling those blowing up our sons and daughters to “bring it on” was good strategy, and whose prior brilliance brought us the appointments of John Bolton, Bernard Kerick, Donald Rumsfeld, Harriet Miers, Mike “Brownie” Brown and Alberto Gonzalez, came to another conclusion.

The President decided that he, and anyone he deems worthy, is above the law. From this vantage point it appears, sadly, that he is finally right about something.

Column copyright 2007 Midland Avenue Communications. Reprints without permission are a violation of Federal Law.