MEET VICTOR RITA….In light of Scooter Libby’s scandalous commutation this week, here’s an apples-to-apples comparison that the White House may struggle to spin.
[I]n a case decided two weeks ago by the United States Supreme Court and widely discussed by legal specialists in light of the Libby case, the Justice Department persuaded the court to affirm the 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled that against Mr. Libby. The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice. Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has. Mr. Rita served in the armed forces for more than 25 years, receiving 35 commendations, awards and medals. Like Mr. Libby, Mr. Rita had no criminal history for purposes of the federal sentencing guidelines.
The judges who sentenced the two men increased their sentences by taking account of the crimes about which they lied. Mr. Rita’s perjury concerned what the court called “a possible violation of a machine-gun registration law”; Mr. Libby’s of a possible violation of a federal law making it a crime to disclose the identities of undercover intelligence agents in some circumstances.
When Mr. Rita argued that his 33-month sentence had failed to consider his history and circumstances adequately, the Justice Department strenuously disagreed.
Both Rita and Libby are first-time offenders; both were convicted of the exact same crime. One lied about gun registration; the other lied about his role in outing a covert CIA operative during a time of war. The president believes the prior should be away for nearly three years, but believes the latter shouldn’t spend a single moment behind bars.
I anxiously await the explanation from White House sycophants about Bush’s deep and abiding respect for a justice system in which all Americans are equal under the law.
A few other commutation notes to keep in mind today:
* Sentencing experts cannot find a single other instance in American history in which someone sentenced to prison had received a presidential commutation without having served any part of that sentence. (Bush is quite a trailblazer.)
* Defense attorneys can’t wait to take advantage of the can of worms the president has opened. One legal expert said, “I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion.’”
* “According to federal data, the average sentence for those found guilty of obstruction of justice was 70 months, not zero.
* And Bush couldn’t even thumb his nose at the rule of law competently. In his commutation order, the president said Libby should still get two years probation. The law says that “supervised release,” as it is called, can only follow an actual prison sentence. Now, Judge Walton doesn’t know how to reconcile Bush law with real law.