Of presidential pardons and how lawmakers answer simple questions

Such simple questions.

Such a variety of responses from the three Republicans in the Nevada delegation — congressmen Jon Porter and Dean Heller and Sen. John Ensign.

The topic is the stuff of opinion pieces and editorials in recent weeks. Surely I wasn’t the only Nevadan wondering what the three elected officials thought or whether their constituents were weighing in on the matter.

The answers tell you something about our elected officials and their spokesmen: One thoughtful answer from Porter directly. One evasive answer on Ensign’s behalf. One refusal to answer one e-mail and four phone calls over three days from Heller’s press aide.

Perhaps you can answer the question: What would you say if President Bush asked you for your opinion whether or not he should pardon Scooter Libby? (It’s not like I asked a toughie, such as should Paris Hilton get a pardon.)

Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. On Thursday, the trial judge decided he should report to prison in a few weeks rather than remain free during appeal. While Libby wasn’t the one who originally leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to the news media, he denied to the FBI and the grand jury that he discussed the case with reporters, and a jury said those were lies.

This issue has been bubbling for weeks. Presidential candidates are being asked their views. Nevada Republicans might want to know where their elected officials stand. (Presumably Democrats are opposed to pardoning Libby.)

Porter said about 90 to 100 constituents commented during Libby’s trial, and recently there were 11 comments. Most of those were opposed to a pardon.

“Right now, I don’t think he (Libby) qualifies for a pardon,” Porter said.

He said he was looking at it from a global perspective. “My perspective is that one of the pillars of the Constitution is our criminal justice system.” Part of that system is that Libby now has the right to appeal his conviction and sentence. But even if Libby fails to win on appeal, then Porter doesn’t see the need to pardon him.

He said Paris Hilton is a clear example of why people are disgusted with the justice system because they think if you are rich and powerful you can buy justice.

Presidential pardons can be a quagmire, Porter said, citing the controversial pardons by President Clinton.

On his final day, Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger; his former business partner Susan McDougal; his one-time Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros; and the most controversial, fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife donated generously to Clinton and the Democratic Party, causing some to say the pardon was sold.

Porter’s spokesman, Matt Leffingwell, connected me with the congressman on Monday and at the end of the week provided the most up-to-date constituent statistics. In the news biz, we call that “efficient.”

Ensign’s spokesman, Tory Mazzola, e-mailed me in a timely fashion: “Senator Ensign believes this is the president’s prerogative. No, Senator Ensign’s office is not receiving a significant amount of mail or calls on this subject.”

Of course it’s the president’s prerogative. That’s a given.

Mazzola ignored my second e-mail asking whether that means Ensign has no opinion.

But that was better than the silent treatment from Heller’s office. My e-mail Monday morning to press aide Stewart Bybee explaining my questions was ignored. So were four calls to Bybee’s voice mail and cell phone. An e-mail to Heller’s chief of staff, Mac Abrams, also was not worthy of a reply.

Was this personal? After a few enquiries, I learned Heller’s office just doesn’t get back to the Review-Journal often. That seems foolish because Heller said in May that he will run for governor in the future. And part of his district is in Clark County.

Perhaps ignoring Southern Nevada voters is Heller’s preference. Perhaps Heller doesn’t know how often Bybee ignores news media questions. Perhaps Bybee is really busy. There are 16 press releases on Heller’s Web site this year. That would take time.

But Congressman Heller, Nevadans would still like to know how you feel about pardoning Libby. Unless that’s too tough a question.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.

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