Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to then Vice President Dick Cheney, shares a laugh with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a discussion at the conservative Hudson Institute.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Updated at 1:58 p.m. ET
President Trump took the extraordinary step Friday of overruling the judgment of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and granting a pardon to I. Lewis Libby Jr, who served as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
(Bush had previously commuted Libby’s sentence, but did not issue a full pardon.)
Libby, known as “Scooter,” was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2007 in connection with the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.
In pardoning Libby, Trump, who complains almost daily about leaks, is in the peculiar position of pardoning a man convicted of involvement in a national security leak.
“I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” President Trump said in a statement from the White House. (Full statement below.) “Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.'”
There has been no indication that Trump had a particular interest in Libby’s case until recently, when John Bolton, an ally of former Vice President Cheney’s, took over as national security adviser at the White House.
Democrats reacted sharply at Trump’s pardoning. California Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, linked the pardoning to the Russia investigation, charging the president is sending the message, “You have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
On the day the President wrongly attacks Comey for being a “leaker and liar” he considers pardoning a convicted leaker and liar, Scooter Libby. This is the President’s way of sending a message to those implicated in the Russia investigation: You have my back and I‘ll have yours.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) April 13, 2018
Conservatives have long championed Libby’s cause, but President Bush, while commuting Libby’s two-and-a-half-year sentence, thus saving him from prison, refused to pardon him.
Pressed repeatedly by Cheney at the time of Libby’s conviction, Bush asked a team of White House lawyers to examine the case. But when they concluded that the jury had substantial reason to convict, Bush told his vice president that he would not pardon Libby, prompting an angry Cheney to reply, “You are leaving a good man wounded upon the field of battle.”
In his book, Bush said he was taken aback by the harshness of the remark. “In eight years, I had never seen Dick like this, or even close to it. I worried that the friendship we had built was about to be severely tested.”
Indeed, according to friends of both men, the relationship never was the same between the two men.
In pardoning Libby, President Trump has not done much concrete for Cheney’s former chief of staff. Libby was disbarred after his conviction but reinstated in 2016. In some jurisdictions, a convicted felon also loses the right to vote, but in the District of Columbia and Maryland, felons can vote once they have served their time in prison.
A pardon grants forgiveness for a crime, not exoneration, but many see it as removing the stigma of a conviction.
Here’s the full statement from the White House:
“Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) to I. ‘Scooter’ Lewis Libby, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Richard Cheney, for convictions stemming from a 2007 trial. President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s sentence shortly after his conviction. Mr. Libby, nevertheless, paid a $250,000 fine, performed 400 hours of community service, and served two years of probation.
“In 2015, one of the key witnesses against Mr. Libby recanted her testimony, stating publicly that she believes the prosecutor withheld relevant information from her during interviews that would have altered significantly what she said. The next year, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously reinstated Mr. Libby to the bar, reauthorizing him to practice law. The Court agreed with the District of Columbia Disciplinary Counsel, who stated that Mr. Libby had presented ‘credible evidence’ in support of his innocence, including evidence that a key prosecution witness had ‘changed her recollection of the events in question.’
“Before his conviction, Mr. Libby had rendered more than a decade of honorable service to the Nation as a public servant at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the White House. His record since his conviction is similarly unblemished, and he continues to be held in high regard by his colleagues and peers.
“In light of these facts, the President believes Mr. Libby is fully worthy of this pardon. ‘I don’t know Mr. Libby,’ said President Trump, ‘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.'”