Libby and the GOP's Criminalization of Politics Defense
As Scooter Libby awoke this morning to find God in his heaven and all right with the world, his apologists were fast at work in regurgitating the trusty Republican "criminalization of politics defense" to fend off criticism of President Bush's shocking endorsement of law-breaking. Of course, that's what the conservative movement has been reduced to. Whether the scandal involves the outing of Valerie Plame, the misdeeds of Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff, or the U.S. attorneys purge, we can always count on the GOP to recast its rampant criminality as mere political disagreement.
Robert Novak, whose July 14, 2003 column outing the covert CIA operative put him at the heart of PlameGate, reacted angrily to the lack of a full Libby pardon by trotting out the "no underlying crime" version of the criminalization of politics defense:
"The unique aspect of the Libby conviction was that there was no underlying crime whose prosecution he is accused of obstructing...Republicans have raised millions of dollars for Libby's defense, painting him as the victim of prosecutorial abuse and the criminalization of politics."
Scooter Libby, of course, was convicted by a jury of perjury and obstruction of justice. His crimes prevented prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald from carrying out his investigation, constituting the proverbial "sand in the eyes" of the umpire. And by commuting his sentence, President Bush yesterday in essence aided and abetted that obstruction of justice. Americans will not get definitive answers to the questions surrounding who was involved in the campaign to smear Joe and Valerie Wilson and why the White House fought so hard against criticism of its Iraq war rationale. In a nutshell, we won't know who Scooter was trying to protect and what they were trying to hide.
But for Republicans, this is all just politics as usual. As I wrote in "Politicizing Crime," the PlameGate affair is a textbook example of the GOP comfortably redefining its ow wrong-doing as the normal stuff of everyday, partisan politics:
The usual cavalcade of apologists for Republican law-breaking swarmed to Libby's defense. With his looming indictment in the fall of 2005, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison compared Libby to Martha Stewart, and offered a new variant of the Delay sound bite, the "perjury technicality." Hutchison said she hoped that:
"That if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."
Hutchison, of course, had plenty of company in offering the criminalization of politics canard in the CIA leak case. On October 14, 2005, Bill Kristol complained, "I am worried about what happens to the administration if Rove is indicted," adding, "I think it's the criminalization of politics that's really gotten totally out of hand." In succeeding days, Kristol's Fox News colleagues Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Stuart Varney and Chris Wallace joined the chorus singing from the RNC's criminalization of politics hymnal. On October 24th, Kristol took to the pages of the Weekly Standard to denounce a supposed Democratic strategy of "criminalizing conservatives." When Libby was later convicted, the Wall Street Journal editorial page called for a pardon. The WSJ cited grave dangers if the Libby verdict were to stand: "perhaps the worst precedent would be normalizing the criminalization of policy differences."
Mercifully, the American people are not buying it. In the wake of Libby's March conviction, three-quarters surveyed felt Libby should receive no pardon. Flash polls Monday showed that 60% felt Libby's prison sentence should have left in place. And across the nation, newspaper editorial boards are unified in condemning President Bush cynical decision to bless law-breaking by his inner circle.
But for Republicans, it's all just politics.