WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump issued a full pardon to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
It was an act of mercy that the White House billed as righting a wrong committed by the office of the special counsel who prosecuted Libby, during the very week that special counsel Robert Mueller raided the offices of Trump’s personal attorney.
“I don’t know Mr. Libby,” Trump said in a statement, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”
In a statement, Libby credited Trump “for his gracious decision to grant a pardon” rather than let a “terrible injustice” persist.
A jury convicted Libby in 2007 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a case brought by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was investigating a government leak that revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The leak occurred after Plame’s husband wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times critical of President George W. Bush’s claim that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium in Niger.
The court sentenced Libby to three months in prison, a $250,000 fine and two years of probation. Before Libby reported to federal prison, President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, but it was a partial commutation. Calling the prison term “excessive,” Bush eliminated Libby’s prison time by not the fine and probation.
Furious that Libby was not issued a full pardon, Cheney scolded Bush for “leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle.”
Plame issued a statement that challenged Trump’s assertion that Libby was “treated unfairly.”
Bush, Plame noted, “declined to issue a pardon, stating, ‘I respect the jury’s verdict. … And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable.’ President’s Trump’s pardon is not based on the truth.”
Libby, now a senior vice president at the conservative Hudson Institute, was not the original leaker; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was — but Libby was prosecuted because he had lied to federal investigators.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attacked the president’s decision.
“Trump is clearly trying to send a message with his pardon of Scooter Libby – he has no issue with rewarding those who lie under oath. But it does not change the facts: neither @POTUS or his allies are above the law,” Pelosi tweeted.
During Friday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denied that the Libby pardon was meant to “send a signal” on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
The Libby pardon was the third issued by Trump since he assumed office.
In August, Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty of defying a federal court order. Last month, Trump pardoned a sailor who had been sentenced to a year in prison for taking photos in classified areas of a submarine. Kristian Saucier’s conviction had been seized by the right as an example of what happens to regular people — as opposed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — when they are too free with classified material.
At Friday’s briefing, Sanders denied that there was a political bent to the Trump pardons. “The president,” she told reporters of the Libby pardon, “thought it was the right thing to do.”