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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

No pardon for Libby

NO SOONER had jurors returned with their guilty verdicts in the case of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby than television commentators were already suggesting that a presidential pardon might spare Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff from any prison time.

Talk about obstruction of justice. Libby isn't even due to be sentenced until June 5.

But, yes, Scooter Libby should go to prison for his part in the White House's shameful campaign of retaliation against an administration war critic. And no, he doesn't deserve a pardon.

According to one of the jurors who found Libby guilty on four of the five counts against him, the vice president's top aide was told no fewer than nine times by inside sources that the wife of Joseph Wilson, who disputed the administration's claims involving weapons in Iraq, was an active CIA agent.

That this little tidbit had slipped Libby's mind and that he only learned about it from a reporter, as he claimed, didn't make sense to the jurors, or to anyone considering the episode with an open mind. He clearly lied to the FBI and the grand jury investigating the leak about Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and there was no doubt that he attempted to thwart the inquiry.

Besides vindicating Mr. Wilson, a former ambassador, the case showed just how far those at the very top of the Bush Administration were willing to go to try to discredit critics, especially when the topic was the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction used to justify the Iraq war.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says he won't file charges against anyone else, but Mr. Cheney remains, as the prosecutor said in court, "under a cloud." Were this an administration with the slightest sense of shame for having been caught in a big lie on such an important matter of public policy, the vice president would be gone - replaced or resigned.

Libby's lawyers have served notice that they will ask for a new trial and, if that fails, appeal the verdict. Although they are certainly entitled to do so under the law, it appears that the maneuvers are intended to string out the legal proceedings until President Bush can pardon Libby in the waning days of his administration.

Mr. Bush, of course, has the power to pardon anyone he chooses for any reason, just as his father pardoned six participants in the Iran-contra affair, another foreign policy debacle, back in 1992.

But a pardon won't wipe away the indelible stain of impropriety from an administration that has tried to steamroller its critics by concocting lies and fabrications.

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