Donald Trump
Credit: Evan Guest/Flickr

President Trump doesn’t know or care about the facts of the case, but he “heard” that Scooter Libby got screwed so he issued him a pardon. At least, that’s what just happened if you believe the president.

President Trump on Friday issued a pardon to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former chief of staff to Vice President Richard B. Cheney who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby,” Trump said in a statement, “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.”

There are a lot of possible ways to interpret both this pardon and the particular timing involved. It could be based mainly on the fact that Scooter Libby was and is represented by Victoria Toensing and Trump has been meeting with her and her husband Joe diGenova lately, even briefly considering bringing them on as part of his defense team until they all realized that the two lawyers had a conflict of interest.

Or it could be a way to send a message to anyone who is thinking of cutting a deal with Robert Mueller that if they will just hold out the president will take care of them, even if they lie to a grand jury and obstruct justice.

Whether intentional or not, the move is a giant middle finger to the intelligence community, and that could be part of the point here, too. The prosecutor who investigated the Valerie Plame Wilson case, Patrick Fitzgerald, is reportedly a close personal friend of James Comey.

I don’t want to revisit that case in any kind of comprehensive way, but it involved the deliberate outing of a CIA officer who had been operating with non-official cover in operations overseas. Her identity was revealed to suggest that her husband Joe Wilson was not a neutral or objective reporter of fact when he disclosed that he had traveled to Niger to investigate the possible diversion of some of that country’s uranium supply to Iraq for use in their allegedly reconstituted nuclear weapons program. President Bush had made that allegation in his 2003 State of the Union address (the notorious sixteen words), but the intelligence was based on forged documents that had quite likely been concocted with the connivance of Michael Ledeen. Joe Wilson found that any diversion of Niger’s uranium to Iraq was very highly unlikely and reported as much to the CIA when he came home and was debriefed. When he saw the president still using the theory as a casus belli, he blew the whistle. The administration decided to attack his credibility and his wife’s covert career became collateral damage, as well as her operations. Her foreign contacts were obviously put in mortal danger.

The intelligence community was outraged and they found ready partners in the Democrats and the antiwar left who were more than willing to help them seek justice.

Scooter Libby was serving as Dick Cheney’s right-hand man at the time, and he was central to the plan to leak Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to key reporters and right-wing media personalities. He wasn’t freelancing, but he agreed to take the fall in the expectation that he would be pardoned. When the time came, though, George W. Bush refused to pardon Libby and only agreed to commute his sentence so that he would not face any actual jail time. Remember, George W. Bush’s father was the director of the CIA during the Ford administration and the agency’s headquarters are formally named the George Bush Center for Intelligence. Poppy Bush would have been apoplectic if his son had pardoned Libby. He considered the outing of covert operatives to be treachery and blamed Dick Cheney for leading his son’s presidency astray.

Scooter Libby was effective in shielding Cheney from culpability in the Plame matter, and Cheney lobbied relentlessly for Bush to pardon him in return. So, in this limited sense, Donald Trump is correct when he says that Libby got screwed. But the people who really got screwed were Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson. And the damage wasn’t limited to them. We may never know if anyone was killed as a result, but it certainly destroyed ongoing operations and sent a powerful message that the CIA could not keep its secrets and cooperating with them was risky.

The only punishment that was meted out for this treasonous behavior was Scooter Libby’s conviction. Trump just wiped that clean, so you can imagine how the intelligence community feels about his decision.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at