Time has a great piece out today on the last days of the George W. Bush presidency, focusing on the nasty infighting between Bush and Dick Cheney over Bush's unwillingness to pardon Scooter Libby on his way out the door.
Citing numerous anonymous Bush White House sources, Time's Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf constructed a piece that reads like a gripping political novel. Most compellingly, the two central characters', Bush and Cheney, views on pardons, particularly the pardoning of Scooter Libby, couldn't have been more diametrically opposed, with Bush being distrustful of the whole pardon process, believing firmly that pardons were little more than vehicles for the politically connected to save their asses when and if they ever get into trouble, while Cheney labored almost obsessively to secure a pardon for Libby. In fact, Cheney's pardon crusade became so obsessive that it caused many within the administration to speculate that perhaps Libby had taken a bullet for Cheney in the Valerie Plame case, and that Cheney's dogged pursuit of a pardon was rooted in a personal debt of gratitude he owed Libby.
Petitions for pardons are usually sent in writing to the White House counsel's office or a specially designated attorney at the Department of Justice. In Libby's case, Cheney simply carried the message directly to Bush, as he had with so many other issues in the past, pressing the President in one-on-one meetings or in larger settings. A White House veteran was struck by his "extraordinary level of attention" to the case. Cheney's persistence became nearly as big an issue as the pardon itself. "Cheney really got in the President's face," says a longtime Bush-family source. "He just wouldn't give it up."
In the waning days of his presidency, Bush gave Cheney the opportunity to present one last case for the pardoning of Scooter Libby.
The Vice President argued the case in that Oval Office session, which was attended by the President and his top aides. He made his points in a calm, lawyerly style, saying Libby was a fall guy for critics of the Iraq war, a loyal team player caught up in a political dispute that never should have turned into a legal matter. They went after Scooter, Cheney would say, because they couldn't get his boss. But Bush pushed past the political dimension. "Did the jury get it right or wrong?" he asked.
In that meeting Cheney went on to make the argument that a liberal Washington jury and a maniacal prosecutor had teamed to criminalize Libby for having a faulty memory. Bush then spent a few days thinking things over.
Bush would decide alone. In private, he was bothered by Libby's lack of repentance. But he seemed more riveted by the central issue of the trial: truthfulness. Did Libby lie to prosecutors? The President had been told by private lawyers in the case that Libby never should have testified before the grand jury and instead should have invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Prosecutors can accept that. But lie to them, and it gets personal. "It's the difference between making mistakes, which everybody does, and making up a story," a lawyer told Bush. "That is a sin that prosecutors are not going to forgive."
A few days later, about a week before they would become private citizens, Bush pulled Cheney aside after a morning meeting and told him there would be no pardon. Cheney looked stricken. Most officials respond to a presidential rebuff with a polite thanks for considering the request in the first place. But Cheney, an observer says, "expressed his disappointment and disagreement with the decision ... He didn't take it well."
Earlier today, in response to the publication of the Time article, Dick Cheney released the following statement:
Scooter Libby is an innocent man who was the victim of a severe miscarriage of justice.
He was not the source of the leak of Valerie Plame's name. Former Deputy Secretary of State, Rich Armitage, leaked the name and hid that fact from most of his colleagues, including the President. Mr. Libby is an honorable man and a faithful public servant who served the President, the Vice President and the nation with distinction for many years. He deserved a presidential pardon.
Yeah, there's some bad blood here. Now go read this piece.