Week in Review: Libby, Domenici, British Terror

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The week's highlights include President Bush's decision to commute I. Lewis Libby's prison sentence; Sen. Pete Domenici's new position on Iraq; and charges filed in a British terrorism plot.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, President Bush commutes the prison sentence of a former White House aide, Lewis Libby. An Iraqi doctor is the first person charged in connection with last week's attempted bombings in London and Glasgow. And another high-ranking Republican senator breaks with the administration on Iraq.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first please, to the president's decision on Lewis Libby.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: He'd let stand the fine of $250,000, and I believe, two years probation. But he said he made the decision to commute his sentence because he felt that the 30-month jail sentence for perjury was excessive.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Among the questions, why do you think the president decided on a commutation rather than a pardon?

SCHORR: I think his father is probably asking the same question. His father, the first President Bush, gave out five pardons to people connected with the Iran-Contra Affair, including Caspar Weinberger, the former secretary of defense. In his case, this president clearly wants to have it both ways. He wanted to say, yes, all right. This is justice being done, but yet, this is excessive, a man, who have very low rating in the polls right now, grasping for any support he can get.

SIMON: Do you think a pardon is still a possibility?

SCHORR: I think a pardon is still a possibility, yes.

SIMON: A question that was often raised this week, President Clinton issued a whole passel of pardons, if you please…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …as he was leaving office including, most notably and controversially, the one for Marc Rich…

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: …got an influenced peddler, whose attorney, interestingly enough, was Lewis Libby.

SCHORR: It's not funny.

SIMON: Name comes back to us. How does this compare?

SCHORR: If the president has done what presidents have done before, if they decide there is somebody he want to do a favor to on meeting office, he may issue a pardon here and there. He's done in the dozen; he's done in the hundreds.

SIMON: If the allegation, of course, with Marc Rich is that he'd been a very generous contributor to the Clinton (unintelligible).

SCHORR: His wife had. Yes. His wife had been (unintelligible) moneymaker for him. And to do that, certainly, it doesn't look very good. The Constitution says she can do it. That doesn't say it's nice to do.

SIMON: Is this different?

SCHORR: This is different because yes, because when President Clinton did it, it was not for anything connected with what was happening inside the government. In this case, we're talking about somebody who is convicted of doing something while on the federal payroll, and therefore is much closer to using the best kind of evidence he can.

SIMON: I think the allegation in the Marc Rich pardon was that he essentially had used money to buy a pardon from the Clintons, which is kind of affecting the government.

SCHORR: That's right. Yes, but he was not a government officer. I mean, it may not be…

SIMON: He was a businessman. Yeah.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: And people have pointed out that the decision in this case may not exactly square with the president's position on tougher federal sentencing guidelines.

SCHORR: No. It doesn't square with anything. But the Constitution says the president can do it and he can do clemency. He can do complete pardon, half pardon. He can do anything he wants to do. And when - I'll give you one example. In one case, President Nixon, when he was worrying about what he should do, was advised by a lawyer that he could pardon himself.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: He chose to wait for his friend to do it.

SIMON: President Ford, you mean?

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: They weren't exactly friends, were they?

SCHORR: It's more of Ford's brother loyal to Nixon.

SIMON: I want to turn to Iraq. Peter Domenici, Republican senator from New Mexico, has criticized the president's strategy on Iraq. Last week, it was Senator Lugar of Indiana. In an election year, do you see this as the shape of things to come?

SCHORR: Oh, yes. And I think when Congress comes back next week we're going to see signs of that. As you mentioned, there are now three leading Republican senators who have taken the position, upsetting the policy of the administration, and there may be more. I mean, they're looking forward to the election next year and I would not be surprised if we see things tacked on various appropriations bills. This is sort of the beginning.

SIMON: Another Iraq funding bill has to come to a vote. And of course, the Democrats last time tried to put benchmarks or timelines into it (unintelligible).

SCHORR: And they'll try again.

SIMON: Do you think the result might be changed because of growing disaffection voiced by some Republican senators?

SCHORR: I think the president can hold up for some period of time on this. I mean, he can do the (unintelligible) but the Congress has to take responsibility then of allowing appropriations that are needed not to be passed, and that gets to be a real tussle between the two of them. But it's getting harder and harder. The news from Iraq is not all that great. September looms when they're supposed to take a reading of this thing. They may not wait until September before some people want to see something happen.

SIMON: A British-born Iraqi doctor, Bilal Abdulla, was the first person charged in connection with last week's attempted terrorist attacks. What do we know about him? What is the significance to the case so far?

SCHORR: Well, one significant thing is that apparently there is some word that two of them made inquiries in Philadelphia about maybe coming to work in the United States. So this brings the thing a little closer to us that it had been until now. You know, you remember what doctors first thing they're supposed to do is do no harm?

SIMON: Yes.

SCHORR: And look at all these medical people trying to do harm.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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