Trump's pardon of Scooter Libby sends a 'troubling signal' to the Mueller investigation

  • President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned Scooter Libby, a Bush administration official who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
  • Critics immediately seized on the pardon as evidence that Trump is signalling that pardons could be on the horizon for witnesses who don’t fully cooperate in the Russia investigation.
  • Top Trump officials even pointed out on Friday that they perceived Libby as “the victim of a special counsel gone amok.”

President Donald Trump provoked outrage from critics on Friday when he pardoned former Bush administration official “Scooter” Libby and said in a statement that he did so because he heard Libby had been “treated unfairly” by the special prosecutor who investigated him.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice related to leaked identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.

The timing of the pardon appeared random at first glance. Libby’s case has largely faded from public discourse over the last decade, he did not formally apply for the pardon through the Justice Department, and Trump conceded in his statement that he “didn’t know Libby.”

Beyond that, Libby had already been relieved of many of the consequences typical felons face as a result of their convictions. His 30-month sentence, for instance, was commuted by former President George W. Bush, and his voting rights were restored in 2013 by former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

But a major clue about the Libby case’s newfound significance is the similarities it bears with Trump’s ongoing legal battles with the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling.

“Why pardon Scooter Libby today? People had forgotten about Scooter Libby,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told CNN on Friday. “The pardoning of someone who was convicted for obstruction of justice while working in the White House, I think, is more about sending a message to people today than it is about a case that’s 10 years old.”

‘Many people think that Scooter Libby was the victim’

Trump and his allies have long decried the Russia probe as a “fishing expedition” and “witch hunt” and suggested that the special counsel Robert Mueller is running an unfairly wide-ranging investigation.

Bush administration officials similarly decried special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for being overly zealous in Libby’s case.

Democrats noted the theme on Friday, criticising Trump for appearing to reward criminal conduct and threaten the effectiveness of the special counsel’s investigation.

“This pardon sends a troubling signal to the president’s allies that obstructing justice will be rewarded,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

The Trump administration even appeared to wink at the similarities between Libby’s case and the Russia probe.

“You know, many people think that Scooter Libby was the victim of a special counsel gone amok,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters, according to ABC News. She denied, however, that Trump’s intent was to signal that it’s “OK to lie under oath and to obstruct justice.”

But Plame said Friday that she believed the pardon was an clear message to Trump’s allies who are witnesses in the Russia investigation.

“It’s very clear that this is a message he is sending that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned,” Plame told MSNBC.

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