Guest Blogged by Jon Ponder of Pensito Review.
It's hard to imagine a counterpoint to Scooter Libby's criminal case more apt and revealing than the case of Victor Rita, a North Carolina veteran who was convicted by the feds of lying under oath about buying an illegal machine gun.
Both Rita and Libby were convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in federal cases. Both were sentenced to around 30 months in jail. Both sentences were appealed, and Bush officials at the highest levels were involved in the appeals as they played themselves out in the past few months.
In their appeals, both Rita and Libby sought leniency based on their records of public service and current circumstances. Victor Rita served in the Marine Corps for 25 years, including tours of duty in Vietnam and Gulf War I. He is now advanced in age and in failing health. As a result of his crimes, he has reportedly been wiped out financially.
George W. Bush described Scooter Libby's career in public service as "exceptional," but a review of Libby's bio reveals him to be a neocon bureaucrat who held a series of political positions in Republican administrations before moving up to the White House with Cheney and Bush --- where he was either a witness to or a participant in skullduggery and shenanigans the half of which we don't yet know. Libby is in his late 50s, appears to be in good health, and was able to pay his $250,000 fine out of his checking account, probably with the help of a defense fund set up by powerful Republicans friends like Fred Thompson and Mary Matalan.
Earlier this year the appeals by Rita and Libby both took dramatic turns, at which point the similarities between the two cases came to an abrupt end.
Rita's moment came when his appeal was heard before the Supreme Court...
Contrary to earlier accounts, the hearing was not in 2006. It was less than five months ago, on Feb. 20, 2007. And the Bush administration's participation was not merely as a "friend of the court," as it has been described. The government was a party, the respondent, in the appeal.
At the Supreme Court, Bush's solicitor general, Paul Clement, urged that Rita's sentence be upheld on the grounds that it was reasonable --- a position very much in line with the administration's tough stance on sentencing. On June 21, the court issued its ruling, siding with the administration. Rita's appeal was denied.
Less than two weeks later, on July 3, Bush commuted Libby's 30-month sentence, calling it, without a trace of irony, "excessive."
What Rita so aptly reveals is that Bush's stated reasons for commuting Libby's sentence --- the harshness of the sentence and Libby's exceptional public service --- were bogus. We can only speculate about his real motives, and it is too soon to know whether the commutation will turn out to be a political blunder of the first order or a criminal act, both, or neither.
But there appears to be blood in the water. The Bushies are out in force trying to change the storyline by slamming the Wilsons and desperately downplaying the seriousness of Libby's crimes. (On Hardball yesterday, David Rivkin trotted out the thoroughly debunked claim that Valerie Wilson was not covert.)
Their obfuscation may not work as well this time because by commuting Libby's sentence, especially so soon after advocating upholding the nearly identical sentence of an elderly war veteran, Bush has shown his hand as never before. Americans --- even the ones who were not following the CIA leak scandal closely --- totally get it when someone in power buys off a witness who happens to know where all his bodies are buried.