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Cheney bitter over Bush refusal to pardon Libby

He reportedly lobbied relentlessly for a full pardon for his ex-chief

February 22, 2009|Andrew Malcolm and Johanna Neuman

LOS ANGELES AND WASHINGTON — It is being described as a full-court, all-out campaign, waged in the last days of the Bush administration by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, to get George W. Bush to grant a full pardon to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The effort failed, but the snub by the Texas Lone Ranger has left Cheney furious. The New York Daily News quoted a Cheney associate as saying that Cheney "tried to make it happen right up until the very end," pressing his case in many conversations, both in person and on the phone. Cheney was relentless, said one ally.

He went to the mat and came back and back and back at Bush. He was still trying the day before Barack Obama was sworn in.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury about his role in the administration's leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. This in an effort to discredit her husband, former envoy to Iraq Joe Wilson, who was penning op-eds critical of Bush's plans to go to war in Iraq.

Bush commuted Libby's 30-month sentence in July 2007, saying at the time that he wanted to respect the judgment of the jury that had convicted Libby but felt the sentence was excessive.

With Cheney on offense to get Libby a full pardon, an exasperated Bush told aides he didn't want to talk about it anymore.

Bitter over the outcome, Cheney has now gone public, arguing that his chief of staff was railroaded by the administration's political critics. As he told the Weekly Standard: "He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."

The Ticket thinks the former vice president has a point.

This was a planned leak, and two other administration figures -- political guru Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage -- had already confessed to telling reporters about Plame's covert role. Libby's only crime was lying.

But in Washington, it's always the cover-up, rarely the original crime, that gets you in trouble.


Iowa, Ottawa -- whatever

Except for the second public sentence out of his mouth, President Obama's day trip to Ottawa on Thursday was a success.

The new president, on his first journey outside all 57 states, said almost all the right things for America's touchy northern neighbors, who anticipate U.S. slights with an uncanny ability. Obama pushed the right buttons.

And because his adoration rating in Canada, at last measure, was well above his popularity back home, even if he'd blown the day with some comment about annexing the Great White North, Canadians would have taken it as an obvious joke.

All right, because you insist, we must detail the sole blemish, a minor (but revealing?) one.

As they met the press with more flags around than Canadians usually prefer, Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood behind separate lecterns.

As is required in that bilingual land, Harper opened with remarks in French. And then said the same things in English.

Harper then turned the floor over to Obama.

"Thank you," said Obama, according to the official White House transcript. "Well, it is a great pleasure to be here in Ottawa."

Nice try. What he actually said was, "Well, it is a great pleasure to be here in Iow-Ottawa."

Iowa. Ottawa. What's the difference? They're both frozen places right now with numerous hockey teams. Or maybe Obama was thinking of 2012 already.

The two leaders appeared friendly, no automatic given among neighbors. Obama, clearly well-briefed, made the obligatory attempt to list Canadian connections (a brother-in-law and two staff members).

And when, quite quickly, the sensitive subject of Canadian troops in Afghanistan arose, Obama skillfully slipped in his knowledge of Canada's 108 fallen soldiers (largest per capita of any NATO member in combat there) and a preemptive denial that he tried to pressure Harper into sending more troops or staying beyond his rock-firm bipartisan mid-2011 pullout date. (Canadians would have expected pressure from Bush.)

The reality is it's Canadian combat troops that will leave. Other Canadian military will long remain to train Afghans, although anyone even scanning the last few centuries of history in that war-torn tribal land could be forgiven for thinking it might better for Afghan fighters to be training Westerners there.

As the Ticket reported, Obama reassured Harper about "Buy American" provisions in the economic stimulus package, said the U.S. would abide by all existing trade agreements and seemed to back away, for now, from firm campaign pledges to labor to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying in a recession everyone must be wary of protectionism.

Both men stressed their promise to work on economic stability and ratified a joint program to promote greenhouse gases and combat energy efficiency. (Just testing if you're reading closely. It's the other way around, of course.)

The president then tacked on a comment about politics and the weather. Unlike the Iowa miscue, the White House transcript was able to detect the positive audience reaction: "I want to also, by the way, thank some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me during the -- during the election. (Laughter.) It was much appreciated. And I'm looking forward to coming back to Canada as soon as it warms up. (Laughter.)"


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