Republican hypocrisy is on full display the wake of the White House’s announcement that Pres. Obama had commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst serving 35 years for giving classified information to WikiLeaks.
Republican response to Manning’s commutation was swift, and at times brutal, as reported by Business Insider.
“This is just outrageous,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement, adding that: “Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets. President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”
The infamous Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a veteran who led the Republican efforts to undermine Obama’s Iran negotiations, posted a statement on his website that read: “”When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. I don’t understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies. We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the commutation a “grave mistake,” that “will encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline,” adding that “It is a sad, yet perhaps fitting commentary on President Obama’s failed national security policies that he would commute the sentence of an individual that endangered the lives of American troops, diplomats, and intelligence sources by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, a virulently anti-American organization that was a tool of Russia’s recent interference in our elections.”
The New York Daily News reports that Trump was “troubled” by the decision to commute Manning’s sentence. His incoming press secretary elaborated during the Trump transition team’s daily conference call, telling reporters: “You have an individual who was convicted of espionage and sentenced to spend 35 years in jail and after the outrage that we’ve seen about other leaks, and issues that have come up, to see someone who has given away this country’s secrets, and been convicted of it through a military court, it’s disappointing and it sends a very troubling message when it comes to the handling of classified information, and to the consequences to those who leak information that threatens the safety of our nation.”
The Commutation of Lewis “Scooter” Libby
The story of Valerie Plame and Lewis “Scooter” Libby serves as a stark contrast to that of Chelsea Manning.
Libby was indicted in 2005 and convicted in 2007 for having “leaked” classified employment information about Plame, who was the wife of Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson and a covert CIA agent.
The case involved the highest level of government – the George W. Bush White House.
The Independent reported in a 2011 follow-up piece that Plame’s identity was leaked to Washington Post columnist Robert Novak in 2003.
It was leaked by Karl Rove, president George W Bush’s mastermind, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in an attempt to discredit Plame Wilson and her husband Joe. She had been involved in finding intelligence that showed Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program[me], contrary to the belief and desires of many of the US government.
When the Wilsons campaigned that it was treason to expose an agent, Bush retorted that she was “fair game”.
CNN reported in 2007 that: “Plame had worked in the CIA’s counter-proliferation division before the March 2003 invasion. She told a congressional committee in March that her exposure effectively ended her career and endangered ‘entire networks’ of agents overseas.
Shortly after his sentencing hearing, Bush stated on camera that he would “not intervene until Libby’s legal team has exhausted all of its avenues of appeal” that “it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss the case until after the legal remedies have run its course.” [From Bush, New York: Simon & Schuster, July 2016 (ISBN 9781476741192)]
However, less than a month later, on July 2, 2007, Bush commuted Libby’s prison sentence.
The move by Bush was criticized by many at the time. The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that: “Sentencing experts said Bush’s action appeared to be without recent precedent. They could not recall another case in which someone sentenced to prison had received a presidential commutation without having served any part of that sentence. Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time.”
“We can’t find any cases, certainly in the last half century, where the president commuted a sentence before it had even started to be served,” said Margaret Colgate Love, a former pardon attorney at the Justice Department. “This is really, really unusual.”
Said Ellen S. Podgor, a professor at Stetson University law school: “This is a classic case of executive activism as opposed to judicial activism.”
Republicans Praise Libby’s Commutation
Despite the severity of the charges against Libby and the near total lack of precedent for a presidential commutation, Republicans were quick to praise the decision by Bush.
Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, argued with Pres. Bush that Libby was unfairly charged by a politically motivated prosecution, and it was reported by Time Magazine that he believed that the commutation fell short.
Below are some additional Republican responses, courtesy the reader-supported website ShadowProof:
- U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS): “[Libby was convicted] on a crime that didn’t exist.”
- Rudolph Guiliani, former Republican Mayor of New York City: “After evaluating the facts, the president came to a reasonable decision and I believe the decision was correct.”
- Mike Huckabee, former Republican Governor of Arkansas: “The President acted compassionately towards Mr. Libby, his wife, and children, while showing respect for the judicial process.”
- Mitt Romney, former Republican Governor of Massachusetts: “[U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald] went after somebody even when he knew no crime had been committed… Given that fact, isn’t it reasonable for a commutation of a portion of the sentence to be made?”
- Fred Thompson, former U.S. Senator (R-TN) and star of “Law and Order”: “While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the president’s decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life.”
- Tommy Thompson, former Republican Governor of Wisconsin: No official statement. Previously said, “Bill Clinton committed perjury at a grand jury, lost his law license. Scooter Libby got 30 months. To me, [Libby’s sentence] is not fair at all.”
The hypocritical distinction between Republican response to Chelsea Manning’s clemency and that of Scooter Libby is aptly demonstrated by White House spokesman Josh Earnest’s response last Friday to questions presented by reporters regarding a possible pardon of noted whistle blower Edward Snowden.
As MSN reports, Earnest told reporter that “Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing.”
He also noted that while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were “damaging to national security,” the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were “far more serious and far more dangerous.” (None of the documents Ms. Manning disclosed were classified above the merely “secret” level.)
And there is no doubt that Libby’s outing of Plame as a CIA operative damaged national security.
As The Nation reported at the time of Libby’s clemency,
Valerie [Plame] was operations chief at the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA’s clandestine operations directorate… As part of her job, she traveled overseas under cover. CBS News recently reported that it had confirmed she had also worked on operations designed to prevent Iran from obtaining or developing nuclear weapons…
Appearing before the House government oversight and reform committee in March, she testified the she was a “covert officer” who had helped to “manage and run operations.”…
Yes, this was a case of putting politics (getting Joe Wilson) ahead of national security concerns (such as protecting the identity and operations of a CIA officer working the WMD beat). …
The bottom line: this episode demonstrated that the Bush White House was not honest (the vice president’s chief of staff was even convicted of lying to law enforcement officials), that top Bush officials had risked national security for partisan gain, and that White House champions outside the government would eagerly hurl false accusations to defend the administration.
On the flip-side, here are some of the responses by Democrats, published by CNN in 2007:
- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and presidential candidate: “This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.”
- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York: “As Independence Day nears, we are reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.”
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada: “The President’s decision to commute Mr. Libby’s sentence is disgraceful. Libby’s conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone. Judge Walton correctly determined that Libby deserved to be imprisoned for lying about a matter ofnational security. The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own Vice President’s Chief of Staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law.”
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California: “The President’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people. The President said he would hold accountable anyone involved in the Valerie Plame leak case. By his action today, the President shows his word is not to be believed. He has abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice, he has failed to uphold the rule of law, and he has failed to hold his Administration accountable.”
- Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, presidential candidate: “Last week Vice President Cheney asserted that he was beyond the reach of the law. Today, President Bush demonstrated the lengths he would go to, ensuring that even aides to Dick Cheney are beyond the judgment of the law. It is time for the American people to be heard – I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.”
- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, presidential candidate: “Today’s decision is yet another example that this Administration simply considers itself above the law. This case arose from the Administration’s politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies. Four years into the Iraq war, Americans are still living with the consequences of this White House’s efforts to quell dissent. This commutation sends the clear signal that in this Administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.”
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