Early Monday evening, President Bush commuted the sentence of former Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "news analysis," For President Bush, Action in Libby Case Was a Test of Political Will," portrayed the act as a test of the president's survival skills, faced as he is with the support only of a "dwindling band" of "conservative believers."
"President Bush's decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. was 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."
"Indeed, to administration critics, the commutation was a subversion of justice, an act of hypocrisy by a president who once vowed that anyone in his administration who broke the law would 'be taken care of.'
"Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, called it a 'get- out-of-jail-free card.' Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, called it 'a betrayal of trust of the American people.'
"But to the conservative believers who make up Mr. Bush's political base, the Libby case was a test of the president's political will. In the end, although he did not go so far as to pardon Mr. Libby, Mr. Bush apparently decided that it was a test he did not want to fail." (The Times has never used the term "liberal believers" in the context of politics.)
Tuesday's lead editorial, "Soft on Crime," which was actually posted on the Times' home page Monday night, poured on the hostility.
"When he was running for president, George W. Bush loved to contrast his law-abiding morality with that of President Clinton, who was charged with perjury and acquitted. For Mr. Bush, the candidate, 'politics, after a time of tarnished ideals, can be higher and better.'
"Not so for Mr. Bush, the president. Judging from his decision yesterday to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. - who was charged with perjury and convicted - untarnished ideals are less of a priority than protecting the secrets of his inner circle and mollifying the tiny slice of right-wing Americans left in his political base...Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell."
Of course, president Bill Clinton infamously pardoned fugitive tax-evading financier Marc Rich and the FALN Puerto Rican terrorists. But the Times' reaction to the FALN case was quite mild, giving Clinton the benefit of the doubt. An excerpt from the Times September 9, 1999 editorial "Leniency and Silence":
"For many Americans, the memories of the violence of a generation ago are still fresh. The Armed Forces of National Liberation - commonly known by its Spanish initials, F.A.L.N. - waged what it felt was a war of liberation involving reprehensible attacks like the one on Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street, which killed 4 people and injured more than 60.
"Even so, there is a basis for clemency in these particular cases. The 16 were convicted of such crimes as seditious conspiracy, possession of unregistered firearms and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle. However, none of their actions have been linked to any incidents of violence. The sentences for these crimes, as long as 90 years in some cases, are out of proportion to what would be meted out in cases not involving association with radical groups."
Speaking of convictions for crimes involving national security, the Times was much easier on Clinton's former national security adviser Sandy Berger, convicted of illegally removing and losing classified intelligence documents from the National Archives. Instead of focusing on Berger's crimes, which he paid for with a fine and loss of his law license, the Times' coverage instead changed the subject, blaming the White House of leaking news of the investigation.