After visiting some wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center today, President Bush took two questions from the media about his decision to commute the sentence of Scooter Libby. The president was first asked if he was willing to rule out a pardon for Libby. He replied, “First of all, I had to make a very difficult decision. I weighed this decision carefully. I thought that the jury verdict should stand. I felt the punishment was severe, so I made a decision that would commute his sentence, but leave in place a serious fine and probation. As to the future, I rule nothing in or nothing out.”

Then the president was asked if his decision to ignore the federal sentencing guidelines, which call for jail time in cases of perjury and obstruction of justice, sent the wrong message to the American people that it is ok to lie to the FBI. The president answered, “I took this decision very seriously on Mr. Libby. I considered his background, his service to the country, as well as the jury verdict. I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand, and I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand. But I felt like the 30-month sentencing was severe; made a judgment, a considered judgment that I believe is the right decision to make in this case, and I stand by it. Noticed how the president completely ignored that second question about the message his actions in this case send.

At least the president can count on the support of fellow man of privilege, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor, who is fond of bringing up on the campaign trail that he turned down all 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons, saw nothing wrong with Bush commuting Libby’s sentence. Romney said that the prosecutor “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?” By the way it is only Mitt Romney’s opinion that no crime was committed, the justice system would disagree with this characterization.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean had a very different view of the situation. Dean said, “Once again President Bush and the GOP have undermined a core American value: equal justice under the law for every American. By commuting this sentence, President Bush is sending a clear message that the rules don’t apply to the Bush White House or loyal Republican cronies. After promising that anyone who violated the law would be ‘taken care of,’ President Bush instead handed Scooter Libby a get out of jail free card….It’s a sad day for America when the President once again puts protecting his friends ahead of equal justice under the law.”

I think the reason why Bush’s commutation of Libby’s sentence rubs so many people the wrong way is because it highlights once again the inequities in the U.S. justice system. If anything, Bush’s actions drive home a point that most of us already know. The justice you get is only as good as the amount you can afford to spend to buy it. Celebrities, the wealthy, and the powerful receive lesser penalties for the same crimes than average people who aren’t famous or wealthy do every day. The same offenses are rarely punished the same way if a person can afford expensive lawyers, experts, and public relations people, or if the defendant has highly placed political connections. It is just a troubling fact of life in American society that, as the Libby case illustrates; justice is a resource based concept. Those who have the most resources, get the most justice.

Howard Dean’s statement

Mitt Romney quote

President Bush quotes

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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