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Since the Russian probe began, Trump has managed to squirm around with deflections, bullying, firings, obscene rants on Twitter, and now giving a pardon to Scooter Libby, which will change nothing for Libby, but puts up a barrier with which Trump hopes to protect himself from what might be found in the Mueller investigation. . . at least that is the opinion of Marcy Wheeler who has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times. It is her contention that very soon, Mueller will tell Congress that Trump is giving out pardons to undercut the investigation into what he has done.
Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Libby makes it crystal clear that he thinks even the crime of making the country less safe can be excused if done in the service of protecting the president.“There is a cloud over the White House as to what happened. Don’t you think the F.B.I., the grand jury, the American people are entitled to a straight answer?”
With those words, uttered over a decade ago, Patrick Fitzgerald, a prosecutor appointed as special counsel to investigate whether the president and his closest aides had broken the rules of espionage for their own political gain, sealed the conviction of I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter, for obstructing his investigation into the White House.
Even with that conviction, we never learned the real story about whether Vice President Dick Cheney had ordered Mr. Libby, his chief of staff, to leak the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press in retaliation for a Times Op-Ed by her husband, Joseph Wilson, calling out the president’s lies. We never learned whether Mr. Cheney gave those orders with the approval of the president or on his own. That’s because President George W. Bush added to the obstruction by commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence, ensuring that nothing would happen to the firewall that protected his own White House. Mr. Libby wouldn’t go to prison, but neither would he lose his Fifth Amendment privilege, which could make it easy to compel further testimony about his bosses.
On Friday another president with a special counsel investigation raging around him pardoned Mr. Libby. “I don’t know Mr. Libby,” President Trump said in the pardon announcement. “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.”
The move was entirely symbolic. Since his conviction in 2007, Mr. Libby had regained the two main privileges a felony conviction had stripped from him: his right to vote and his law license. This pardon will change nothing in Mr. Libby’s life.
Similarly, it will change nothing in Ms. Plame’s life. Her career working to prevent nuclear proliferation cannot be restored by presidential fiat.
“What I lost was the ability to do my job, which I loved,” Ms. Wilson told me when asked about the pardon of Mr. Libby. “I developed expertise in making sure bad guys don’t get nuclear weapons. That’s what I’d be doing, and no one would know my name.”
Nor will the pardon of Mr. Libby do anything for the people who risk their lives to cooperate with the C.I.A., who were put at risk by Ms. Wilson’s exposure.
Mr. Trump’s action does nothing to change the past.
But it might change the lives or convictions of people whom President Trump does know: his own personal firewall. By pardoning Mr. Libby, Mr. Trump sends a message to Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and any of his other close aides who are facing or may face potential prosecution pursuant to the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
Mr. Manafort was indicted in October for hiding that he was working for a Russian-backed Ukrainian party while lobbying in the United States; charges against him could put him away for the rest of his life. F.B.I. agents raided the home and offices of Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen this week; according to the Department of Justice, he is under criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York, and he may face charges of bank and wire fraud for paying hush money to prevent news of past sexual affairs from becoming public during the election. By pardoning Mr. Libby, Mr. Trump sends a message to those who might incriminate him in crimes related to conspiring with Russians to tamper with the election: The message is that he will rectify any sadness that protecting a president might cause.
The thing is, Mr. Trump is unlikely to be able to use his pardon power to get out of his legal jam. That’s because several of his potential firewalls — Mr. Manafort, Mr. Cohen and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — could be charged at the state level for the financial crimes they’re suspected of. A federal pardon would simply move their prosecution beyond Mr. Trump’s control.
And there are many more people who can incriminate the president, whereas in the investigation into Ms. Wilson’s exposure, Mr. Libby was one of the only people who could say whether the president had authorized the leak of a C.I.A. officer’s identity. Already, three key witnesses have agreed to cooperate with Mr. Mueller against the president, so it’s probably too late to start silencing witnesses.
Finally, neither Mr. Trump nor his thoroughly outmatched legal team knows the full exposure he or potential witnesses face. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/opinion/trump-scooter-libby-pardon.html
That makes it a lot harder to pull off what George Bush did — protect his firewall.
Finally, Mr. Trump is running out of time. As NBC reported this week, Mr. Mueller is already preparing the first of two reports to Congress. This one will lay out the ways the president has already obstructed his investigation into election tampering. It will reportedly include the discussion of pardons with Mr. Manafort and Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Mike Flynn (who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in November). In other words, within weeks Mr. Mueller will inform Congress that President Trump has been offering pardons specifically to undercut the investigation into his actions.
Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Libby makes it crystal clear that he thinks even the crime of making the country less safe can be excused if done in the service of protecting the president. But it doesn’t mean the pardon will protect him.