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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Two for the low road
By PHILIP GAILEY
Published July 8, 2007
It's hard to say who is more indebted to President Bush - Scooter Libby or Bill Clinton. Libby owes the president for his freedom. As for Clinton, he owes Bush for the political pardon he has been granted by Americans. Many voters who once suffered from Clinton fatigue have succumbed to Bush exhaustion, and they are willing to consider putting Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office just to get Bill back in the White House. Barack Obama may be the "rock star" of American politics, but Bill Clinton, blemished but unbowed, is still King Elvis.
No wonder the Clintons, as they campaigned among adoring crowds in Iowa last week, felt not the least bit awkward in criticizing President Bush's decision to spare Scooter Libby prison time (his felony conviction and $250, 000 fine stand). They may look like hypocrites or worse, but they have been pardoned for their excesses by millions of Americans who are sick of Bush and Cheney - and for good reason. Who needs to stand on moral high ground when you can stand against one of the most unpopular presidents in history?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who leads the Democratic presidential field in the polls, said in a statement: "This commutation sends the clear signal that in this cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice." It's hard to argue with that, if one doesn't consider the source.
When an Iowa radio host asked Bill Clinton about his pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the former president didn't hesitate. "Yeah, but I think the facts were different, " he said. "I think there are guidelines for what happens when somebody is convicted."
Let's look at the facts. The reason Marc Rich was not convicted of a crime is that he never stood trial. He fled to Switzerland after he was indicted by a New York grand jury for allegedly evading more than $10-million in taxes and engaging in illegal business transactions with Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. And how's this for irony: Scooter Libby, then in private practice, was Rich's defense attorney and supported the pardon.
In his final hours as president, Clinton granted 146 pardons and 36 commutations. He extended presidential clemency to an assortment of rogues, drug dealers, tax cheaters and politically connected crooks. Two of the pardons went to convicted felons who had paid Hugh Rodham, the former first lady's brother, $400, 000 for putting in a good word with the White House.
Clinton has never explained why he deemed Rich worthy of a pardon. Could it have had anything to do with the fact that Rich's former wife was a major contributor to Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate campaign? Or that the former Mrs. Rich made a postpardon donation of $450, 000 to the Clinton presidential library fund? Hillary Clinton insists that the pardons had nothing to do with politics or money. If you say so, senator.
The former president is right in saying the facts were different in the Rich and Libby cases. However, they do have one thing in common - it was their political connections and nothing else that kept them out of the slammer.
Bill Clinton, of course, could have told Scooter Libby that lying to a federal grand jury is a serious matter, though not unpardonable. Clinton lied in his grand jury testimony about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. As a result, he was impeached by the House, acquitted by the Senate and lost his Arkansas law license for a few years. Now the Clintons are campaigning to re-take the White House they tarnished, and if Hillary Clinton makes it to the Oval Office, she will owe it more to George W. Bush than to her politically savvy husband.
The real outrage is that there are plenty of people in prison more deserving of presidential clemency than Scooter Libby or Marc Rich. In explaining his decision, Bush said he thought Libby's sentence was excessive for someone with no prior conviction and a record of public service (if that's what you call doing Dick Cheney's dirty work). And he expressed sympathy for Libby's family.
So why has Bush's Justice Department opposed these same arguments when they are made by defense attorneys in other criminal cases? This administration rejects any suggestion that justice sometimes is best served when tempered with mercy, or even a little compassion.
"Given the administration's tough stand on sentencing, " Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times last week, "the president's arguments left experts in sentencing scratching their heads."
Maybe some good can yet come from this scandalous affair. Clinton should invite Bush to join him in leading a national debate on federal sentencing reform. There can be equal justice under the law only when the least of those caught up in the criminal justice system are treated as compassionately and as generously as Scooter Libby and Marc Rich.