MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
There is a new chill in Russia, and it's not just the weather. Recent killings of some of the Kremlin's most prominent critics have frightened human rights campaigners. New laws have been used to close down some human rights groups. And we'll hear about more on that, more about that in a moment from NPR's Michele Kelemen. But first, in the latest part of our series on contemporary Russia, NPR's Gregory Feifer reports on what some call Russia's new dissidents.
BLOCK: We'll get to that story in a moment. But first this: As almost as soon Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted, some conservatives started calling on President Bush to pardon him. Libby was the vice president's chief of staff and he was convicted of lying to obstructing investigation into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: Just two hours after the jury foreperson read the verdict in court, the Web site of the National Review posted an editorial. Justice demands that President Bush issue a pardon, it said. David Rivkin is a contributing editor to the magazine.
Mr. DAVID RIVKIN (Contributing Editor, National Review magazine): I think that the best thing to do would be to pardon him now and prevent this matter from going forward.
SHAPIRO: Rivkin believes Libby never should have been prosecuted in the first place, and he thinks President Bush should rectify the situation now.
Mr. RIVKIN: Having said all that, I don't think, unfortunately, that is going to happen. I think the far more likely scenario is that he will be pardoned towards the end of administration. Not because it's a matter of waiting till the end of the administration but I think that there'll be enough people in the White House who would say, well, let's see how their appeals go.
SHAPIRO: When reporters at the White House asked spokeswoman Dana Perino about a presidential pardon for Libby, she called it a wildly hypothetical situation and refused to speculate.
Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Spokesperson): There is a process in place so all Americans, if they want to receive a pardon from a president, be that any president that is in office and I'm aware of no such request.
SHAPIRO: There's a long history of presidents pardoning people who have gotten into trouble because of their work for an administration. One of the most famous is President Ford, who pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal. The first President Bush pardoned some of the people convicted in the Iran-contra affair. Columbia University history professor Alan Brinkley.
Mr. ALAN BRINKLEY (History professor, Columbia University): So this is not an unusual thing for presidents to do, pardon members of their administration who've been prosecuted for things that the presidents probably believe were not really their fault and believed they were perhaps scapegoated for.
SHAPIRO: He says such pardons can have political fallout. For example, Ford's presidency never recovered from his unpopular decision to pardon Nixon. Brinkley believes the consequences would not be as great if President Bush were to pardon Libby.
Mr. BRINKLEY: It would be a significant hit but, you know, would a president with a 29 percent approval rating couldn't have a lot to lose and the people who would be outraged by this pardon are people who've already turned against President Bush. So, a political hit might not be so bad.
SHAPIRO: One of those who'd be outraged is Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf, who used to work for the Clinton administration.
Mr. NEIL KINKOPF (Law Professor, Georgia State University): I think people would also be outraged because of the message it would send to others in the administration, that if you obstruct probes of this administration, you shouldn't worry you won't go to jail, the president will take care of you.
SHAPIRO: Kinkopf says even if Libby took the fall for higher ups in the White House, that does not absolve him of responsibility for his crimes.
Mr. KINKOPF: Capos in the mafia protect their bosses. But that doesn't mean they're not guilty of a crime and shouldn't go to prison.
SHAPIRO: After the verdict came down yesterday, a reporter asked one of the jurors how he'd feel if Bush pardoned Libby. Denis Collins replied that he wouldn't be upset a bit.
Mr. DENIS COLLINS (Juror, Libby trial): I just don't have any, you know, spite or I don't know, whatever, anger or, about Mr. Libby.
SHAPIRO: President Bush has issued fewer pardons than other recent presidents. Most of those he has issued if not been controversial. President Clinton's pardon choices were more widely criticized. For example, Clinton came under fire for pardoning fugitive financier Mark Rich in January of 2001. Rich's ex-wife was a major Democratic donor. And the lawyer who represented Rich during that affair was Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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