Digging Deeply

by digby

This is a very touching story about Bush's many weeks of agonized deliberation and careful thought about whether he should pardon Libby or commute his sentence. It is a portrait of a man wracked by the weight of presidential responsibility. It was, after all, among the most important decisions a leader ever makes. A man's life was at stake.

Because the deliberations were so closely held, those who spoke about them agreed to do so only anonymously. But by several different accounts, Mr. Bush spent weeks thinking about the case against Mr. Libby and consulting closely with senior officials, including Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff; Fred F. Fielding, the White House counsel; and Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush’s departing counselor.

“They were digging deeply into the substance of the charges against him, and the defense for him,” one of the Republicans close to the White House said.

That's truly moving. The president dug deeply into the substance and consulted with many people to determine what the right and just thing to do would be. It's a tribute to his seriousness and his integrity

But it is just a teensy bit odd considering this

During Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution, and was then briefed on those facts by his counsel; based on this information Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales, a Harvard-educated lawyer who went on to become the Texas secretary of state and a justice on the Texas supreme court. He is now the White House counsel.


Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes.

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.

Like so many Republicans, Bush apparently lacks the capacity to think in the abstract. He only found the sentencing guideline "harsh" when it was someone he knew personally. The 152 people whose death warrants he gave a cursory glance to before signing off on the day of their execution weren't exactly members of his social circle, so why bother?

On the other hand, isn't it far more likely that what he spent weeks worrying about was how to keep skittish little Scooter from spilling his guts if he failed to beat the rap --- and the NY Times just regurgitated a huge bucket of spin? Yeah, I thought so too.