Monumental Double Standards In Bush’s Crony Commutation Get Attention

Brian Zick

Adam Liptak for the NY Times: reports: In commuting I. Lewis Libby Jr.’s 30-month prison sentence on Monday, President Bush drew on the same array of arguments about the federal sentencing system often made by defense lawyers — and routinely and strenuously opposed by his own Justice Department.Critics of the system have a long list of complaints. Sentences, they say, are too harsh. Judges are allowed to take account of facts not proven to the jury. The defendant’s positive contributions are ignored, as is the collateral damage that imprisonment causes the families involved.On Monday, Mr. Bush made use of every element of that critique in a detailed statement setting out his reasons for commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence — handing an unexpected gift to defense lawyers around the country, who scrambled to make use of the president’s arguments in their own cases. (…) Mr. Bush’s decision may have given birth to a new sort of legal document.“I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion,’ ” Professor Podgor said. “It will basically say, ‘My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.’ ” (…) Mr. Bush repeated yesterday that he had found Mr. Libby’s punishment to be too severe. But experts in federal sentencing law said a sentence of 30 months for lying and obstruction was consistent with the tough sentences routinely meted out by the federal system.“On what legal basis could he have reached that result?” asked Frank O. Bowman III, an authority on federal sentencing who teaches law at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said of the commutation. “There is no legal basis.”Nor is there a reason to think that the Justice Department has changed its position about the sentencing system generally. Indeed, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said last month that the department would push for legislation making federal sentences tougher and less flexible. (…) Similarly, in a case decided two weeks ago by the United States Supreme Court and widely discussed by legal specialists in light of the Libby case, the Justice Department persuaded the court to affirm the 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled that against Mr. Libby. The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice.Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has. Mr. Rita served in the armed forces for more than 25 years, receiving 35 commendations, awards and medals. Like Mr. Libby, Mr. Rita had no criminal history for purposes of the federal sentencing guidelines.

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