Decisions, decisions

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Monday, July 2
The Decider is back from a European jaunt where he no doubt reassured thousands of people that the rampant skepticism in America concerning his ability to lead isn't entirely unwarranted. The big revelation, of course, to those of us who thought that there wasn't a corner of the globe where he wasn't reviled, was Mr. Bush's warm reception in Albania, which is now the front-runner as the site for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

Perhaps unfairly assuming that it is a somewhat backward nation, I checked a map to determine exactly where it is located. It is not far from what used to be known as Transylvania, native ground to various types of nocturnal bogeymen, all of them, one might speculate, having a better motive to admire the president than the good folks of Albania.

As gratifying as it is to his supporters, the adulation shown to Mr. Bush should probably be something of a red flag to humanitarians. The next time there are a couple of million dollars earmarked for education in Washington, it should be Fed Exed to Albania immediately for a reality update and stamped urgent.

All good things must end, however, and now Mr. Bush is back in the United States. It looks as if he isn't going to be signing the immigration bill that he prematurely gloated about, but The Decider is once again doing what he does best ... uh, deciding stuff.

One of the decisions that he is going to have to make concerns the fate of Lewis Libby, known affectionately to all with whom he selflessly played ball as "Scooter." Mr. Libby is in immediate peril of trading in his Connecticut blue blood name for a multi-digit number in federal prison. He was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the inquiry concerning the outing of CIA operative, Valerie Plame, receiving a sentence of 30 months in jail and a $250,000 fine.

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Libby became the highest ranking White House official to be convicted since John Poindexter, who was found guilty for his part in the Iran-Contra outrage during those lazy, hazy, crazy days of the Reagan administration.

As I see it, Mr. Bush has three choices. The first is the honorable one. Mr. Libby is guilty. Everyone knows it. He should be sent to prison just the same as you or I. Failure to do so would send the message that there are two systems of justice in America; one for the wealthy and the influential and the much harsher consequences that the rest of us may suffer. That is perfectly true, of course, but we don't need to be reminded of it so blatantly. As I stated, however, sending Scooter up the river, consequences be damned, is the honorable tact, so I think that we may dismiss it out-of-hand.

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The second option would be more in keeping with the character of the men who have brought our country to the precipice where it teeters today. It is generally agreed that Mr. Libby took the fall for an even creepier denizen in our ongoing Washington horror show. (I hope you are aware of my clever tie-in with the reference to Transylvania above.) Ms. Plame's identity was leaked because her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, dared to suggest that the case for attacking Iraq was fashioned out of very shaky information.

Vice President Cheney, perhaps sensing a threat to his imminent induction into a higher income bracket, thought that some sort of retaliation might be in order. Like the Gonzales/Ashcroft hospital thing, they got caught. Mr. Libby was provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove his mettle as a team player by taking the fall in Cheney's place or, at the very least, sustaining the laughable fiction that the vice president wouldn't be involved in such an underhanded scheme.

Once Libby is safely ensconced behind bars, his ability to express any tiresome change of heart would be severely compromised, so there certainly is some merit in Mr. Bush clucking his thick tongue in mock sympathy and then ignoring the whole mess entirely (and, let's face it, there's no shortage of messes if George W. Bush is involved). Neither Bush nor Cheney have ever displayed any particular loyalty to anything beyond their own tattered pennants. What is one more human sacrifice on the altar of megalomania?

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The problem here is a significant one, however. Mrs. Libby has said publicly, in no uncertain terms, that if her husband is going down, he isn't going down alone. The question immediately arises as to whether Harriet Grant Libby has enough bait at her disposal to catch two slippery little weasels. I'm betting that neither Cheney nor Karl Rove particularly wants to risk the chance that she does.

That brings us to the third course of action: A pardon. In granting Libby a pardon, the White House will make every effort to paint him as a martyr to their grand cause, a modern day Joan of Arc being bound to the stake by political partisanship and set ablaze by subversives. What Lewis Libby is, however, is a convicted criminal, not so different from the thug who knocks over a convenience store, if you overlook the $800 suit. He did everything in his power to derail an inquiry into a serious breach involving the nation's intelligence network.

This privileged, magna cum laude, Yale educated corporate lawyer forfeited his honor to placate Dick Cheney's pique. There is nothing epic about Lewis Libby's disgrace and there should be no pity for his shame. Until this country comes to terms with men like Libby, with his prep school polish and his malleable scruples, we are always going to be at the mercy of men like Cheney.

Mr. Bush should not underestimate the justifiable outrage that the pardon will generate, but historically he guards against sleepless nights by not particularly caring what anyone else thinks. I'll bet that this labyrinthine quandary took The Decider about 20 seconds to ponder. But then the issue of a pardon has never really involved anything more fluid than one word — when.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist and reviewer.


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