During tonight’s presidential debate, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked all the candidates to say whether they would pardon Scooter Libby, who was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison today for his felony convictions related to the CIA leak case.
Former mayor Rudy Giuliani said the case “argues more in favor of a pardon,” calling today’s sentencing “way out of line” and “grossly excessive.” Giuliani said the case against Libby was “incomprehensible” because “ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.”
Likewise, former governor Mitt Romney said it’s “worth looking at a pardon,” because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “clearly abused prosecutorial discretion” by going on a “political vendetta” against Libby despite knowing he was not the original source of the leak.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) said definitively they would pardon Libby. Former governor Tommy Thompson said he likely would. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) answered, “He’s going through an appeal process. We’ve got to see what happens here.” Former governors Jim Gilmore and Mike Huckabee and Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) said they would not pardon him, at least without learning more about the case. Watch it:
The fact that Libby didn’t commit the “underlying crime” — i.e., the leaking of Valerie Plame’s CIA status — means nothing. Libby was convicted on obstruction of justice charges precisely because he prevented the special prosecutor from conclusively determining why Plame’s identity was disclosed. As Fitzgerald previously explained: “What we have when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He’s trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view.”
So much for “law and order” conservatism.
UPDATE: Note that Judge Reggie Walton echoed Fitzgerald during the sentencing today: “Your lies blocked an extremely serious investigation, and as result you will indeed go to prison,” Walton told Libby.
BLITZER: I just want to do a quick yes or no. And I’m going to go down the rest of the group and let everybody just tell me yes or no : Would you pardon Scooter Libby?
(UNKNOWN): No. I’m steeped in the law. I wouldn’t do that.
(UNKNOWN): No, not without reading the transcript.
(UNKNOWN): Not without reading the transcript.
MCCAIN: He’s going through an appeal process. We’ve got to see what happens here.
GIULIANI: I think the sentence was way out of line. I mean, the sentence was grossly excessive in a situation in which, at the beginning, the prosecutor knew who the leak was…
BLITZER: So, yes or no, would you pardon him?
GIULIANI: … and he knew a crime wasn’t committed.
I recommended over a thousand pardons to President Reagan when I was associate attorney general. I would see if it fit the criteria for pardon. I’d wait for the appeal.
I think what the judge did today argues more in favor of a pardon because…
BLITZER: Thank you.
GIULIANI: … this is excessive punishment.
BLITZER: All right.
GIULIANI: When you consider — I’ve prosecuted 5,000 cases.
BLITZER: I’m trying to get a yes or no.
GIULIANI: Well, this is a very important issue. This is a very, very important — a man’s life is at stake. And the reality is, this is an incomprehensible situation.
They knew who the leak was.
ROMNEY: Hey, Wolf, can I explain…
GIULIANI: And ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.
BLITZER: All right.
ROMNEY: This is one of those situations where I go back to my record as governor. I didn’t pardon anybody as governor, because I didn’t want to overturn a jury.
But in this case, you have a prosecutor who clearly abused prosecutorial discretion by going after somebody when he already knew that the source of the leak was Richard Armitage. He’d been told that. So he went on a political vendetta.
BLITZER: Was that a yes?
ROMNEY: It’s worth looking at that. I will study it very closely if I’m lucky enough to be president. And I’d keep that option open.
BROWNBACK: Yes. The basic crime here didn’t happen. What they were saying was that the identity of an agent…
BLITZER: All right.
BROWNBACK: … was revealed, but that agent has to be in the field for that to be a crime. That didn’t occur.
THOMPSON: Bill Clinton committed perjury at a grand jury, lost his law license. Scooter Libby got 30 months. To me, it’s not fair at all.
But I would make sure the appeal was done properly, and then I would examine the record.
All right. We heard from all of them.