President Bush yesterday commuted the sentence of "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former top aide. Bush did not pardon Libby, who nonetheless will avoid serving prison time after being convicted of perjury in the Plame investigation. As the Los Angeles Times reports, earlier in the day the three judges of the US Court of Appeals had rejected Libby's "request to stay free, saying he had not raised a 'substantial question' about his conviction." The Financial Times notes the development made "his incarceration imminent." The Washington Post reports "one senior administration official said Bush quickly made his decision" after hearing about the judges' ruling. The Washington Post also reports Bush "made a decision to commute a sentence without going through a process of running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department," and "did not ask...Fitzgerald, for his input, as routinely happens in cases routed through the Justice Department's pardon attorney."
The CBS Evening News' Katie Couric called Bush's move "stunning," and CBS went on to report that "all of Washington is stunned." The New York Times reports this morning that the commutation "seemed to catch Justice Department officials, and even some of Mr. Bush's closest aides, off guard. At the Justice Department, several senior officials were on their way out of the building shortly before 6 p.m. when news flashed on their Blackberries. They were floored."
In a statement issued last night, Bush said, "I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive." According to the Chicago Tribune, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald issued his own statement, taking issue with the President's "use of the word 'excessive' regarding the judge's sentence. 'The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country,' Fitzgerald said." The Politico reported that the president "signed the commutation at 5:30 p.m. in the Oval Office. Before the decision was announced to the press, White House counsel Fred Fielding called a lawyer for Libby, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and the judge in the case." USA Today notes Libby attorney Ted Wells "said Libby and his family 'wish to express their gratitude' for Bush's decision."
Some reports this morning suggest the President will pay a heavy political price for his action though most analysts believe he would have faced even more damaging backlash from conservatives if Libby had gone to jail. The New York Times calls the commutation "the act of a liberated man -- a leader who knows that, with 18 months left in the Oval Office and only a dwindling band of conservatives still behind him, he might as well do what he wants." The Washington Post says the president "appeared to calculate that he would antagonize his conservative base too severely if he did not provide Libby some form of reprieve." Likewise, the Los Angeles Times reports, "Bush has provoked a firestorm of controversy but avoided what might have been even more damaging to his presidency: defections of Republican loyalists." CNBC's chief Washington correspondent John Harwood, on NBC Nightly News, made a similar point, commenting, "This is not going to be popular with the American public as a whole but Republicans and Dick Cheney are happy tonight." ABC World News claimed the president is "playing to his base." Dick Morris was asked on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes if the commutation will "help the President in as much as the base was angry over the amnesty bill." Morris answered, "A little bit. The base was annoyed over amnesty and this is not going to assuage it. ... I don't think it's a big deal politically one way or the other." The Wall Street Journal concurs, predicting that "the move's practical impact on the president's diminished popularity is likely to be minor."
USA Today quotes House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, who said "President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby." The Washington Post, however, says "all but a few Republicans were conspicuously silent," and runs quotes only from Blunt and former senator and likely presidential candidate Fred Thompson, "who has helped lead Libby's defense fund and called for Bush to pardon Libby." The Hill, Washington Times and a "Style" section piece in the Washington Post focus on the reaction of Libby supporters last night. Columnist David Brooks, in the New York Times, says "Plamegate was a farce." Now "the farce is over. It has no significance. Nobody but Libby's family will remember it in a few weeks time. Everyone else will have moved on to other fiascos, other poses, fresher manias."
Under the headline "Soft on Crime," the New York Times editorializes, "Judging from his decision yesterday...untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of" Bush's "inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base." The Washington Post, in an editorial, contends that "to commute the entire prison sentence sends the wrong message about the seriousness of that offense."
Furious Democrats Will Hold Hearings The Washington Post reports House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. is "expected to move swiftly to conduct hearings on the commutation, congressional sources said." In an interview on CNN yesterday, Ambassador Joseph Wilson said the commutation "should demonstrate to the American people how corrupt this administration is." USA Today notes "liberal activist Robert Borosage predicted the commutation would 'stiffen the spines of Congress' in pursuing subpoenas to investigate other administration controversies, including the firing of nine US attorneys."
Other Democrats expressed their outrage last night in statements to the press. The AP reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Bush's decision "showed the president 'condones criminal conduct.'" The New York Times notes Senate majority leader Harry Reid "called the commutation 'disgraceful.'" Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said: "Accountability has been in short supply in the Bush administration, and this commutation fits that pattern." USA Today quotes Sen. Dick Durbin saying, "Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail. ... 'No one in this administration should be above the law.'" Sen. Barack Obama "said the move 'cements the legacy of an administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.'" Said former Sen. John Edwards, "In George Bush's America, it is apparently OK to misuse intelligence for political gain, mislead prosecutors and lie to the FBI."
WSJournal Still Wants Pardon The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page isn't happy with Bush's decision, arguing that "by failing to issue a full pardon, Mr. Bush is evading responsibility for the role his Administration played in letting the Plame affair build into fiasco and, ultimately, this personal tragedy. ... This...will stand as a dark moment in this Administration's history." The Journal adds, "Mr. Bush's commutation statement yesterday is another profile in non-courage," and maintains that Libby "deserved better from the President whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover. The consequences for the reputation of his Administration will also be long-lasting."
President Bush concluded a two-day summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday at his family's home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Media reports varied in their analyses of the meeting's outcome. ABC World News, for example, said the two leaders "tried but failed to resolve their bitter dispute over a US missile defense system that would be based in Eastern Europe." The AP reports, however, "it was Putin who appeared to leave Kennebunkport with the upper hand." USA Today says both leaders "seemed pleased at the tenor of the talks," while the Washington Times reports on its front page that the mood Monday "was decidedly lighter than their last meeting" at the G8 summit in Germany last month.
The Hill reports House Republicans are "planning to use the ashes of the Senate immigration bill to resurrect the debate on border security." However, according to The Hill, such a "move to go on offense on immigration is politically tricky. While polls show that most Americans back stronger border-security measures, some House Republicans...faced strong criticism last year for their so-called 'hard-line' approach."
The volume of reports on the immigration debate fell precipitously, but the fallout was still being considered by the pundits. In a USA Today op-ed, Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online says, "Historians may well look back on last week's defeat of the immigration bill as a watershed moment. It was, for good or ill, a milestone in America's transformation into a 'normal' country. Normal countries have arguments about their national identity and immigration's effect on it. In normal countries, it's not illegitimate to suggest that too many immigrants, or too many immigrants of a specific origin, may upset the social peace or do damage to the national culture. In America, however, to raise such concerns is to open yourself to charges of racism, bigotry, nativism and all-around hate." In his Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne says, "The defeat last week of the immigration bill is the most obvious manifestation of how economic anxiety and a loss of faith in the federal government's competence have conspired to make it far easier for politicians to say no than yes, to reject compromise on difficult questions and to assume that voters will respond to big initiatives with mistrust."
In a New York Times op-ed, Peter D. Salins of the State University of New York at Stony Brook says, "The Social Security Administration has for seven decades maintained a comprehensive employment database that can keep track of every single employee, legal or not, in the United States. The Social Security database, combined with laws already on the books, provides a way to catch unauthorized workers almost as soon as they are hired. ... By directing the Social Security Administration to use its database to enforce our existing immigration laws, President Bush can do this now without waiting for Congress to pass a bill." And in another New York Times op-ed, author Kenneth C. Davis says, "Anti-immigrant sentiment is older than America itself. Born before the nation, this abiding fear of the 'huddled masses' emerged in the early republic and gathered steam into the 19th and 20th centuries, when nativist political parties, exclusionary laws and the Ku Klux Klan swept the land."
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Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, which has suffered a drop in the polls in recent months, reported yesterday that it raised a disappointing $11.2 million in the 2nd quarter, less than the $13.6 million he brought in during the 1st quarter. Even worse for the campaign it has just $2 million in the bank. In response, the campaign announced it was slashing staff and reorganizing itself, a move that many in the media are treating as the campaign's swan song. For example, the AP reports McCain "struggled to keep his deeply troubled campaign afloat Monday, laying off dozens of staffers after lackluster fundraising and excessive spending left him with just $2 million for his second presidential bid. ... Officials with knowledge of the reorganization said more than 50 staffers, and perhaps as many as 80 to 100, in every department of the campaign were being let go, and senior aides will be subject to pay cuts." The headlines of several DC-insider publications told the story for the veteran senator: The Hill titled its story "Sen. McCain on the Ropes," while The Politico went with "Money Woes Signal McCain Malaise."
The New York Times reports that McCain's aides "blamed his close association with the recently defeated immigration bill, which was strongly opposed by conservatives already skeptical of his ideological credentials. But he has also had to contend with a host of other issues, including his support of the Iraq war, opposition from evangelical voters, the prospect of former Senator Fred D. Thompson's entry into the race, and the sense that his continuing struggles to raise money were consuming the campaign and making fund-raising even more difficult. ... The problems fueled speculation that Mr. McCain would pull out of the race, a notion that his aides were quick to reject."
The Chicago Tribune adds that senior McCain campaign officials "said Monday that they had seriously miscalculated their ability to raise money. In fact, they began the contest believing McCain could raise $100 million and they hired staff based on that assumption. ... Campaign officials tried to put the best possible face on the grim news, asserting that McCain's principled stands on issues had hurt his ability to raise money." The Los Angeles Times reports that yesterday's announcement "likely means that McCain has fallen further behind in the money race, although former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have not disclosed their totals."
USA Today notes that McCain "ordered a previous round of restructuring earlier this year after trailing behind fellow Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani in first-quarter fundraising totals. ... Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said the blame rests with McCain's aides, whom he says failed to play to McCain's natural strength as a maverick. 'They've allowed him to lose that agent-of-change luster -- the image of a good Western conservative, who could take on Washington, D.C.,' he said." The New York Post reports, "Scott Reed, a longtime McCain ally who is not involved in the current campaign, told The Post yesterday that 'the entire leadership' of the campaign should be fired. 'John Weaver could not run a bath,' Reed said. 'He destroyed McCain's chances of becoming president.'"
Still stinging from the loss in the Q2 fundraising race to Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton yesterday went to Iowa where she rolled out her "ultimate" weapon Bill. The Washington Post reports Sen. Clinton "rolled out the ultimate campaign surrogate" in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday night, "sharing a stage with her husband, Bill Clinton, as one of the world's best-known women sought to reintroduce herself to the voters of Iowa." The "former president came to offer validation for his wife, and his appearance underscored the campaign's determination to deal with what has become a nagging problem in a state that could be crucial in determining who wins the Democratic nomination: Hillary Clinton leads in national polls, but she has been struggling in the state with the first caucuses of the nomination process." The CBS Evening News reported, "Here in Iowa, the first state to cast votes, Senator Clinton's not even leading most polls, John Edwards is. Which explains why tonight she's breaking out her not-so-secret weapon, her husband Bill." David Yepsen, The Des Moines Register: "I think Bill Clinton is here a lot earlier than I anticipated. The fact the Clinton campaign has to play this card this early tells you they're worried about her position in Iowa."
USA Today reports Clinton "deployed her presidential campaign's ace in the hole Monday: her husband." Bill Clinton "joined the New York senator for three days of campaigning across the state, to be followed by events this month in New Hampshire. His role: Cheerleader in chief."
The Chicago Tribune reports it was "a given that Sen. Hillary Clinton would exploit her most powerful weapon - the nation's 42nd president - but perhaps not quite this visibly so early in the campaign season." For the Clintons, "the timing couldn't be better, as they seek to change the subject from Sunday's news that Obama raised significantly more money for his campaign during the second quarter than she did."
MSNBC added in an article on its website that "campaign aides told NBC News that they had long planned to have the couple campaign together, but they indicated that it was no coincidence that the first joint appearance comes on the same day that campaign finance statements showed that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., raised more money than Clinton in the second quarter."
Mitt Romney may not be doing much in the national polls, but a pair of new surveys from independent pollster American Research Group show him on top in Iowa and New Hampshire. In the Granite State, a poll of 600 likely GOP primary voters shows Romney leading with 27%, followed by John McCain, 21%; Rudy Giuliani, 19%; and Fred Thompson, 10%. In Iowa, a survey of 600 likely GOP caucus-goers shows Romney leading with 25%, followed by Giuliani, 18%; Thompson, 14%; McCain, 13%; and Gingrich, 5%.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton hold small leads in both states. In New Hampshire, a poll of 600 likely Democratic primary voters shows Clinton leading with 34%, followed by Barack Obama, 25%; John Edwards, 11%; and Bill Richardson, 6%. In the Hawkeye State, Clinton leads with 32%, followed by Edwards, 29%; Obama, 13%; and Richardson, 5%.
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