No pardon for Libby

FORMER SEN. Fred D. Thompson plays a tough district attorney on “Law & Order,” but he sounds like a bleeding-heart liberal when he talks about I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who has been sentenced -- justly -- to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. In a TV interview, Thompson said that Libby “was working himself to exhaustion, trying to protect his country, and they found some inconsistent statements that he made, allegedly.” Thompson added that if he were president, he would pardon Libby.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was a federal prosecutor in real life before becoming mayor of New York City, didn’t go that far. But at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, he criticized U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton for giving Libby a “grossly excessive” sentence that “argues more in favor of a pardon.”

That’s wrong. A pardon would be bad politics, deep injustice and an insult to the nation. Libby was convicted of a serious crime and sentenced in accordance with federal guidelines. President Bush has no legitimate reason to disturb that sentence.

Advocates of a pardon can’t deny that a jury found Libby guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So they are suggesting that his perjury is no big deal because Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald never charged anyone with disclosing the status of CIA employee Valerie Plame. At Tuesday’s debate, Giuliani complained that “ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.” But as a lawyer he, like Libby, knows that the law is entitled to every man’s evidence. Libby’s lies prevented that.

Libby’s apologists also are recycling an argument from the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, when the special prosecutor who pursued Oliver L. North was accused by defenders of the Reagan administration of “criminalizing policy differences” over Nicaragua. But Libby faces prison not because he was an architect and promoter of the war in Iraq. As a high government official, he lied to agents of that government; he did so to foil a prosecution. As he well knew, that was a crime, and one for which he deserves to go to prison.