Cannot Tell A Lie

by dday

Time decided to do some reporting about the final days in the Bush bunker, particularly about Dick Cheney's efforts to extract a pardon for his pal Scooter Libby. It's clearly from Bush's perspective, but nevertheless it's a pretty fascinating article just for seeing how the Bush loyalists spin the tale.

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."

And there was a darker possibility. As a former Bush senior aide explains, "I'm sure the President and [chief of staff] Josh [Bolten] and Fred had a concern that somewhere, deep in there, there was a cover-up." It had been an article of faith among Cheney's critics that the Vice President wanted a pardon for Libby because Libby had taken the fall for him in the Fitzgerald probe. In his grand-jury testimony reviewed by TIME, Libby denied three times that Cheney had directed him to leak Plame's CIA identity in mid-2003. Though his recollection of other events in the same time frame was lucid and detailed, on at least 20 occasions, Libby could not recall details of his talks with Cheney about Plame's place of employment or questions the Vice President raised privately about Wilson's credibility. Some Bush officials wondered whether Libby was covering up for Cheney's involvement in the leak of Plame's identity.

That makes it seem like Bush just wanted to separate himself from the Libby case altogether, despite the fact that Libby was a special adviser to the President, not the Vice President, and he was protecting both Bush and Cheney. It makes sense for Bush to compartmentalize the Libby leak, as if he were an innocent bystander, and refusing to pardon obviously helps him in that case. But it's not true at all. Marcy Wheeler has a lot more on this.

But this just blew me away. After Cheney lays out the case for a pardon, repeatedly, incessantly, for weeks:

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."

Two days after that, Libby, who hadn't previously lobbied on his own behalf, telephoned Bolten's office. He wanted an audience with Bush to argue his case in person. To Libby, a presidential pardon was a practical as well as symbolic prize: among other things, it would allow him to practice law again. Bolten once more kicked the matter to the lawyers, agreeing to arrange a meeting with Fielding. On Saturday, Jan. 17, with less than 72 hours left in the Bush presidency, Libby and Fielding and a deputy met for lunch at a seafood restaurant three blocks from the White House. Again Libby insisted on his innocence. No one's memory is perfect, he argued; to convict me for not remembering something precisely was unfair. Fielding kept listening for signs of remorse. But none came. Fielding reported the conversation to Bush.

OK, is it normal for the subject of a possible Presidential pardon to personally lobby for it on his own behalf? Has that ever happened before? If it has, I don't recall it.

The article is decent enough, but don't start to drink a glass of water when you read this part, or you're in for a surefire spit-take:

While packing boxes in the upstairs residence, according to his associates, Bush noted that he was again under pressure from Cheney to pardon Libby. He characterized Cheney as a friend and a good Vice President but said his pardon request had little internal support. If the presidential staff were polled, the result would be 100 to 1 against a pardon, Bush joked. Then he turned to Sharp. "What's the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?"

The lawyer, who had followed the case very closely, replied affirmatively.

Bush indicated that he had already come to that conclusion too.

"O.K., that's it," Bush said.

Yes, that moral paragon, truth-teller extraordinaire, George W. Bush, Honest George I think they called him, comes down firmly on the side of truth in virtually every circumstance. History will judge him as the most forthright human who ever bestrode the earth. A colossus among men.

Incidentally, the man, Jim Sharp, that Bush is talking with here? It's his own defense attorney.

... you have to love Cheney's response to the story. I guess the Bush loyalists got under his skin.