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Inside Bush and Cheney's Final Days


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Author Topic: Inside Bush and Cheney's Final Days  (Read 502 times)
Spirit of Vengeance
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« Reply #15 on: July 27, 2009, 01:22:31 pm »

Longtime Cheney ally Donald Rumsfeld was eased out as Pentagon chief in late 2006, and Bush replaced him with Robert Gates, a former CIA director and Bush-family ally. Gates was as effective a bureaucratic player as Cheney — and much more of a pragmatist. "Bush was persuaded that the day of the neoconservatives had to be over, because the direction of his presidency had become politically unsustainable," says a well-informed adviser. "It wasn't so much a repudiation of Cheney or Cheneyism but a practical judgment that the previous approach simply wasn't working."
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« Reply #16 on: July 27, 2009, 01:22:41 pm »

Cheney fought some of these initiatives all the way, "taking it upon himself," as a top adviser put it, to make the hard-line national-security case to the President. Cheney didn't lose every fight, but he was no longer winning them all either. And his backup vanished. Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz moved to the World Bank in early 2005. Libby was indicted in October of that year and left the government. John Bolton resigned his post as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. the same month Rumsfeld left the Pentagon in 2006. Cheney's allies no longer manned the key points in the national-security flow chart. "Cheney," says an ally, "had to fight much harder to win."

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« Reply #17 on: July 27, 2009, 01:22:51 pm »

The Pardon Book
The final days of the Bush White House were dominated by worries about the gasping economy, farewell interviews by senior officials and plenty of stories about Bush's dismal approval ratings as he prepared to leave town. But the "elephant in the room," as an adviser puts it, was the still unresolved case of Libby. Many in the West Wing feared that the matter threatened to rend Bush and Cheney's relationship because of the intensity of Cheney's campaign for a full and final pardon.

Bush had long approached pardons with suspicion. As Texas governor, he granted them sparingly. His reluctance stemmed not from a lack of mercy but from his sense that pardons were a rigged game, tilted in favor of offenders with political connections. "He thought the whole pardon system was completely corrupt," says a top Bush adviser. Bush had a textbook illustration in one of his predecessor's last acts: Bill Clinton's eleventh-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife had contributed heavily to his campaigns and presidential library, created a firestorm that consumed Clinton as he left the stage — and overshadowed the first days of the Bush Administration. As President, Bush was often annoyed when guests at holiday parties buttonholed him in photo lines and pleaded for pardons for friends or clients. "Talk to Fred," he'd say coolly, steering them to Fielding.

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« Reply #18 on: July 27, 2009, 01:23:12 pm »

On Dec. 23, 2008, Bush announced 19 pardons. No big names. No apparent political sponsors. But one planned pardon went to a Brooklyn, N.Y., developer who had pleaded guilty in the early 2000s to lying to federal housing authorities. After news accounts surfaced that his father had given nearly $30,000 to the Republican Party earlier that year, the White House backpedaled. It didn't help that one of the lawyers who had sought the pardon had once worked in Bush's own counsel's office — exactly the kind of inside favoritism Bush despised. Bush, who had retreated to Camp David for a last family holiday, spent Christmas Eve fielding phone calls about the case. By day's end, he decided to kill the developer's pardon. The experience left him, aides say, even more wary of the process than he was before.

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."

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« Reply #19 on: July 27, 2009, 01:23:42 pm »

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.

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« Reply #20 on: July 27, 2009, 01:23:53 pm »

That meant taking up the pardon question again was, as a West Wing veteran put it later, like passing a kidney stone — for the second time. Bolten declined to take a stand, according to several associates. Instead, he lateraled the issue to Fielding, claiming that a legal, not a political, call was required. If the counsel's office decided a pardon wasn't merited, says an official involved in the discussions, everyone else would have cover with Cheney. "They could say, Our hands are tied — our lawyers said the guy was guilty."
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« Reply #21 on: July 27, 2009, 01:24:04 pm »

And so again the job fell to Fielding. The counsel knew that only one legitimate reason for a pardon remained: if the case against him had been a miscarriage of justice. Because that kind of judgment required a thorough review, Fielding plowed through a thick transcript of the trial himself, examining the evidence supporting each charge. It took Fielding a full week. He prepared his brief for an expected showdown at a pardon meeting in mid-January 2009.

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« Reply #22 on: July 27, 2009, 01:24:15 pm »

The Vice President argued the case in that Oval Office session, which was attended by the President and his top aides. He made his points in a calm, lawyerly style, saying Libby was a fall guy for critics of the Iraq war, a loyal team player caught up in a political dispute that never should have turned into a legal matter. They went after Scooter, Cheney would say, because they couldn't get his boss. But Bush pushed past the political dimension. "Did the jury get it right or wrong?" he asked.

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« Reply #23 on: July 27, 2009, 01:24:27 pm »

Cheney replied that the conviction for obstruction of justice was based on what amounted to a case of "he said, he said," a disagreement between his longtime aide and a journalist. Libby had told the grand jury he remembered first hearing Plame's name from NBC's Tim Russert. But notes obtained by prosecutors indicated that Cheney had been the first to identify her to Libby. And Russert denied at Libby's trial that he had mentioned Plame to the defendant. The jury sided with Russert. Cheney, however, considered it an open question. "Who do you believe, Scooter or Russert?" he asked Bush.

And Cheney went further. Even if Russert was right, Libby may have honestly forgotten what was said during a single conversation in a typically busy day. Memories are fallible. Only an overzealous prosecutor and a liberal Washington jury would criminalize a bad one, he argued.

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« Reply #24 on: July 27, 2009, 01:24:49 pm »

For his part, Fielding laid out most of his findings in a document called the pardon book, a compendium of evidence for anyone seeking clemency. The book on Libby lengthened the odds on a pardon. "You might disagree with the fact that the case had been brought and that prosecutorial discretion had been used in this way," says a source familiar with the review. "But the question of whether there had been materially misleading statements made by Scooter — on the facts, on the evidence, it was pretty clear." As far as Fielding was concerned, Libby had lied under oath.

And then there was the commutation of 2007. Fielding told Bush that justice had been done in commuting Libby's harsh sentence nearly two years before. Bush had no moral obligation to do more. "You've done enough," he told the President. Presidential counselor Ed Gillespie, without passing judgment on the legal merits, told Bush a pardon would have political costs: it would be seen as an about-face or a sign that he hadn't been forthright two years earlier in declaring that a commutation was the fairest result.
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« Reply #25 on: July 27, 2009, 01:25:01 pm »

No Surrender
Bush would decide alone. In private, he was bothered by Libby's lack of repentance. But he seemed more riveted by the central issue of the trial: truthfulness. Did Libby lie to prosecutors? The President had been told by private lawyers in the case that Libby never should have testified before the grand jury and instead should have invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Prosecutors can accept that. But lie to them, and it gets personal. "It's the difference between making mistakes, which everybody does, and making up a story," a lawyer told Bush. "That is a sin that prosecutors are not going to forgive."

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."

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« Reply #26 on: July 27, 2009, 01:25:32 pm »

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.

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« Reply #27 on: July 27, 2009, 01:25:46 pm »

Meanwhile, Bush was running his own traps. He called Jim Sharp, his personal attorney in the Plame case, who had been present when he was interviewed by Fitzgerald in 2004. Sharp was known in Washington as one of the best lawyers nobody knew. A savvy raconteur from Oklahoma who had represented a long list of colorful clients — from Nixon pal Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo to Sammy Sosa — Sharp had worked quietly for the President for a while before anyone even knew about it. In the meantime, the two men had become friends, spending hours chatting over cigars and near beer. On the Sunday before he left office, Bush invited Sharp to the executive mansion for a farewell cigar.
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« Reply #28 on: July 27, 2009, 01:26:03 pm »

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.

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« Reply #29 on: July 27, 2009, 01:26:16 pm »

Their Separate Ways
With one day to go before both men left office, Bush informed Cheney that Libby would not get a pardon. On Inauguration Day, the outgoing Vice President gave a warm tribute to Bush in a private ceremony as the President prepared to leave Andrews Air Force Base for Texas. A day later, Cheney gave an interview to a conservative magazine, saying he disagreed with the President's decision on the Libby pardon. Other Libby backers were quoted in the article, calling Bush "dishonorable" and saying he had left a soldier on the battlefield, language Cheney had used throughout the debate over the pardon. Bush believes that his Vice President was "probably blinded by his personal loyalty to Scooter," a White House aide says. Cheney had pressed the issue as far as he could but finally conceded. "The Vice President knew there was a line out there that he was getting very close to but couldn't cross," says a former senior official. "The President knew that he needed to help make sure that Cheney didn't cross that line either."

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