Daily Archives: July 5, 2007

Bush remains faithful friend to Putin

Associated Press | Jul 3, 2007

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By DOUGLAS BIRCH

President Bush’s support for Vladimir Putin at their brief summit puzzles Russia scholars, who say the Russian president is being rewarded for behavior the West should be discouraging.

At the end of Putin’s visit to the Bush family compound on the rugged Maine coast, Bush praised the Russian leader for his truthfulness and frankness – evidence that Russia is once again considered a nation to be reckoned with.

“Here’s the thing, when you’re dealing with a world leader, you wonder whether or not he’s telling the truth,” Bush told reporters Monday. “I’ve never had to worry about that with Vladimir Putin. Sometimes he says things I don’t want to hear, but I know he’s always telling me the truth.”

Later, Putin seemed to equate Russia’s record on human rights and press freedom – both widely criticized – with that of the United States.

“Speaking of common democratic values, we are guided by the idea and principle that these are important both for you and for us,” Putin said. “Even in the, shall we say, sustainable democracies, mature democracies, we see basically the same problems … It has to do with the relationship with the media; it has to do with human rights.”

Bush did not react to the evident comparison.

Bush and Putin have had a personal friendship since June 2001, when both held their first summit in Slovenia. “I looked the man in the eye,” Bush told reporters after that meeting. “I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy … I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

The friendship has undergone strains that might have wrecked others. In February, the Russian president accused the U.S., and by implication the Bush administration, of using “an almost uncontained hyper use of force” in global affairs.

And in recent months, Putin seemed to compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany, and threatened to target Europe with missiles if the U.S. builds a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, as planned.

Michael McFaul, an expert on Russia at Stanford University, said he welcomes talks between the two leaders, but is puzzled by how easily the White House forgave and forgot Putin’s harsh rhetoric.

“He says all this, and for that he gets invited to a special event,” McFaul said. “It’s better that they’re cooperating than when Putin threatens the United States as if we were Nazi Germany. But suddenly we’re buddies riding in the boat … I don’t get it.”

Speaking of Putin’s comparison between Russia’s political system and that of the U.S., McFaul, an expert in how democratic societies develop, said Putin “has probably rolled back democracy further than any other world leader during Bush’s presidency.”

Sarah Mendelson, a Russia scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Relations in Washington, said she, too, was surprised by Bush’s comments that he found Putin to be honest and forthright.

“The last thing I would expect to hear anyone say about the Putin administration is truth, trust, comfort,” said Mendelson.

She was also troubled by Putin’s comments comparing Washington and Moscow’s relationship with the media.

Western experts have criticized the Kremlin for establishing control of most of Russia’s major television stations, which now rarely air critical voices. Mendelson said the Kremlin has failed to investigate the suspicious deaths of journalists.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, Putin’s warm reception by Bush was both a result of the friendship between the two men and a reflection of Russia’s restored strength and influence in the world.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told The Associated Press that some of Russia’s critics still wish it were in “transition” from its Soviet past.

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Bush won’t rule out full pardon for Libby

LA Times |  Jul 3, 2007

Calls the decision ‘difficult’ and says he considered many factors in letting the conviction and fine stand

By David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — One day after canceling the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, President Bush declined to rule out an outright pardon for Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

“I rule nothing in or nothing out,” Bush told reporters today after visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Bush said the decision to commute Libby’s sentence was “very difficult.” He said, “I considered his background, his service to the country, as well as the jury verdict.”

In commuting Libby’s sentence, Bush let stand the convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice in conjunction with the CIA leak case. The other terms of Libby’s sentence — two years’ probation and a $250,000 fine — still stand. A pardon would leave Libby with a clean slate: no convictions and no probation or fine.

Libby, 56, was Cheney’s chief of staff and a powerful figure inside the Bush White House during the buildup to the Iraq war.

Compared with other presidents, Bush has granted few pardons or commutations, and those were usually for people who had already served their sentences. As governor of Texas, he also spoke with pride of not interfering with death sentences and executions.

Under the Constitution, the president’s decision to pardon a criminal or to commute his prison term cannot be overturned by Congress or the courts. It can be criticized, however, and Democrats were quick to lambaste the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it disgraceful. Libby’s conviction “was the one faint glimmer of accountability for the White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone,” Reid said.

Several Democratic presidential candidates also condemned the action, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who called it typical of an administration that “has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.”

However, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said the president “did the right thing…. The prison sentence was overly harsh and the punishment did not fit the crime.”

Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who is considering entering the GOP race for the White House, said Bush should have gone further. “While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the president’s decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life.”

William Jeffress, one of Libby’s lawyers, said, “As for the defense lawyers, we continue to believe the conviction itself is unjust but are grateful for the president’s action in commuting the prison sentence.”

Some legal observers said it still would be possible for the defense to continue its appeal. If it is successful, Libby will then avoid the taint of the felony conviction and the loss of his law license. Jeffress said the defense would fight to have the entire case thrown out.

Libby was questioned by the FBI in fall 2003 about the leak of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, had publicly accused Bush and Cheney of falsely claiming that Iraqi agents had tried to purchase fuel for nuclear weapons in Africa. Wilson had been sent to the nation of Niger to assess the nuclear material claim and had found it baseless.

Libby denied that he had discussed Plame in June 2003, but nine witnesses later testified that he had spoken of her.

Libby was prosecuted for lying to the FBI and to a grand jury and for obstructing justice. In March, he was convicted by a jury in Washington, and last month a federal judge sentenced him to 2 1/2 years behind bars.

In his two-page statement Monday, Bush said: “I have carefully weighed [the] arguments and the circumstances surrounding this case. I respect the jury’s verdict.” He described Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald as “a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged.”

Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee who is the U.S. attorney in Chicago, issued a statement disputing the president’s assertion that the sentence meted out by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton was “excessive,” saying “an experienced federal judge” had followed the “applicable laws” in imposing punishment.

“It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals,” he said. “That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.”