On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced a full pardon for Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former Bush administration official unfairly caught up in the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity. Trump explained in a statement, “I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”
President Trump heard right. In 2003, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey appointed special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to The Washington Post. Plame’s husband Joseph Wilson was a prominent Bush administration critic, and Fitzgerald immediately investigated Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in connection with the leak.
At no point did Fitzgerald ever indict Libby for the leak itself because Scooter Libby had absolutely nothing to do with the leak. By the time Libby ever even broached the subject of Plame’s identity with the press, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had already admitted that it was he who leaked the CIA officer’s identity, a crime for which he was never indicted. Although Fitzgerald never established that Libby discussed Plame’s CIA affiliation with journalists, the special counsel nevertheless indicted Libby on charges of procedural crimes such as making false statements to investigators in order to justify the pointless $2.5 million investigation.
At the time of Libby’s conviction in 2007, which entailed a $250,000 fine and two and a half years in prison, Cheney pleaded with Bush to pardon his former chief of staff. Bush agreed to commute Libby’s sentence — a tacit acknowledgement that Libby had been railroaded — but refused to offer him a full pardon. President Trump has now rectified that moral miscalculation.
Former Time Magazine journalist Matthew Cooper, who testified during the 2005 trial about his interactions with Libby, suggested political motives for the pardon. “Recall Comey appointed CIA leak special counsel Pat Fitzgerald,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a slap at Comey.” Valerie Plame suggested during a television appearance that the pardon signals Trump’s intentional to deal likewise with his own advisors should they be convicted of crimes in special counsel Robert Mueller’s witch hunt.
Regardless of Trump’s intention, he made the right decision. Justice has finally prevailed in the Scooter Libby saga. Perhaps more importantly, Trump has shown that Republicans will no longer allow unaccountable federal agencies and bureaucratic mission creep to undermine a duly elected administration — a timely message as Democrats ramp up their efforts to overturn the 2016 election, by hook or by crook.