After decrying “criminalizing politics,” conservative media falsely claim WH's “garden-variety politics” broke laws

Conservative media have claimed the White House's controversial conversations with Rep. Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff -- which have been described by experts as “garden-variety politics” -- constituted criminal activity. But when Bush administration official Scooter Libby was investigated, tried, and convicted, conservative media decried it as “criminalizing politics.”

While right-wing media call Sestak, Romanoff controversies illegal, experts call them “trivial,” “garden-variety politics”

Right-wing media: White House discussions with Sestak, Romanoff illegal, “impeachable.” Numerous right-wing media figures have suggested that the White House's offer to Sestak of a position on a presidential panel if he did not enter the Pennsylvania Senate primary constituted a violation of the law or even an "impeachable offense." Likewise, conservative media have claimed the White House's discussions with Romanoff about possible positions with the administration were illegal.

Experts: Job offers “trivial,” “garden-variety politics,” “unexceptional.” Legal experts have pointed out that the Romanoff and Sestak controversies violated no laws. Moreover, political experts and historians have pointed out that such offers are common. For example, University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato called the allegations “garden-variety politics” and “absolutely trivial.” He added, “Let's stop criminalizing garden-variety politics, which is what this is.” Similarly, historian George Edwards reportedly stated: “There is no question whatsoever that presidents have often offered people positions to encourage them not to do something or make it awkward for them to do it. Presidents have also offered people back-ups if they ran for an office and lost. All this is old news historically.” And Ron Kaufman, who served as President George H.W. Bush's political director, reportedly stated, “Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington.”

Conservative media called Libby's prosecution “criminalizing politics” -- he was found guilty of crimes

Libby: Perjury and obstruction convictions as a result of Plame investigation, prosecutor said Libby's obstruction made it impossible to determine whether underlying crime had been committed. During an October 2005 press conference announcing the indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, then-chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said that obstruction by Libby had prevented his office from determining whether an underlying crime had been committed in the disclosure of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald reiterated this point in his 2007 sentencing memorandum, writing that “the reasons why Mr. Libby was not charged with an offense directly relating to his unauthorized disclosures of classified information regarding Ms. Wilson included, but were not limited to, the fact that Mr. Libby's false testimony obscured a confident determination of what in fact occurred.” Libby was convicted on charges of perjury, lying to the FBI, and obstructing justice, and sentenced to 30 months in prison, two years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. His prison sentence was commuted by President Bush.

Both before and after his March 2007 conviction, numerous right-wing media figures claimed that Libby's prosecution constituted the “criminalization of politics.” For example:

Hannity on the possibility of Libbys's indictment: “When will the criminalization of politics end?” On the October 27, 2005, edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, the day before Libby was indicted for obstruction of justice, providing false statements to investigators, and perjury, Hannity stated (accessed via the Nexis database): “Still to come tonight, some Democrats want to use the grand jury to take on the top people of the White House. When will the criminalization of politics end?”

Kristol: Libby case is “the pure criminalization of a policy and political difference.” On the February 12, 2006, edition of Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol stated (accessed via the Nexis database): “Well, the special prosecutor hasn't charged Libby with that. The more one learns about this case, the more it is, in my view, the pure criminalization of a policy and political difference. He has been charged with no leak of any classified information.”

WSJ's John Fund “learned” from “the whole Libby disaster” that the extent to which politics can be criminalized ... has gone way overboard." On the March 8, 2007, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund stated (accessed via the Nexis database): “Well, one of the things we have learned from the whole Libby disaster is that the independent counsel and the extent to which politics can be criminalized in Washington has gone way overboard. I think there were elements of Clinton years where we saw that. That's why both parties agreed to end the independent counsel law in 1999. Now we`re back in another mess.”

Rich Lowry: Libby's conviction and complaints about a possible pardon are examples of “the criminalization of politics.” From his July 6, 2007, syndicated column:

Practically everything else in American life has been dumbed down, so why not constitutional crises? The braying over President Bush's commutation of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby's prison sentence is that Bush has undermined the rule of law and the Constitution.


Regardless, except for the most blatant crimes, the political arena is the best forum for politically controversial charges of wrongdoing. Rather than commuting Libby's sentence on grounds that it was excessive, Bush should have pardoned him altogether on grounds that the case had become a way to make one man pay for the alleged sins of the administration regarding the war. Our system of government provides a straightforward method to punish an administration without resorting to special prosecutors and criminal charges, which is to vote against the president or his party.

Just wait: The same people hyperventilating about Libby now will have exactly the opposite attitude about the criminalization of politics when a Democrat is back in the White House.

Monica Crowley: “I agree” the conviction of Libby was an example of “the criminalization of politics.” From Monica Crowley's July 3, 2007, post to Human Events Online (accessed via the Nexis database):

I've heard anchors and pundits on almost every major television network saying completely unsubstantiated things, such as, “Well, obviously Libby was covering up for Cheney.” And, “Clearly, Libby lied to protect Rove.” And, “The administration manipulated the Iraq war intelligence.” And, “This case was really about the administration trying to smear war critics.” Well, no, no, no, and no. There was absolutely NO evidence presented in this case to prove ANY of those things. Nothing was presented in court to support ANY of these statements. And no evidence was presented because it doesn't exist. Believe me, if it existed, you would've heard it. The witnesses (ie. NBC's Tim Russert) didn't have any evidence and neither did the prosecution. But that didn't stop any of these same “journalists” from making these outrageously false statements about the Vice President, Rove, Libby, etc. This is the corruption of journalism. Many conservatives condemned the original conviction of Libby as “the criminalization of politics.” I agree. But there is something else: it's the politicization of journalism.

Mort Kondracke: The Libby case is a “rancid example” of the “criminalization of politics.” From the March 7, 2007, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume (accessed via the Nexis database):

KONDRACKE: Yeah, this was Washington Post editorial, by the way, it was not just buried -- it was not some columnist and everybody ought to read it. It is perfectly wonderful, about how this case besmirches everybody who touched it -- that Wilson is a blowhard and a liar. That Libby clearly lied under oath, that the administration misused information and that Fitzgerald probably never should have brought the case. And we didn't learn anything about Iraq. So, it's a great piece of work.

But look, I think that this whole case is another rancid example of a rancid custom in Washington and that is the criminalization of politics and the worst example of it, that I've seen in my time in Washington, is the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And this is, you know, this the ruination of Scooter Libby.

IBD: Libby investigation an “effort to criminalize politics and policy differences.” From a February 11, 2009, Investor's Business Daily editorial (accessed via the Nexis database):

Truth commissions are the hallmark of Banana Republics and Leninist regimes, not of freely elected republics in which political adversaries settle their differences in a civilized manner. No self-respecting representative of the people should want to be associated with such a stunt.

Leahy, of course, insists he's “doing this not to humiliate people or punish people.” But we've seen too many efforts to criminalize politics and policy differences to put much confidence in his word.

It was a Democrat, former ambassador Joseph Wilson who worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill and has funded their campaigns, who wanted Bush aide “Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs” when Rove clearly had not broken any laws. It was Democrats who hounded vice presidential aide Scooter Libby into prison for the offense of having a lousy memory.

National Review: Libby investigation was “criminalizing politics.” A October 7, 2008, National Review editorial, headlined “Criminalizing Politics, Again,” criticized Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey's appointment of a special counsel to investigate the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorney's stating, “We can only hope the result is not another Scooter Libby debacle.”

Tucker Carlson: The possibility of an indictment in the Libby case “is criminalizing politics.” Discussing the possibility of an indictment in the investigation into the Plame leak on the October 20, 2005, of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson, Carlson said “actually, [the case] is criminalizing politics” (accessed via the Nexis database):

CARLSON: Can I just step back three steps and point out how insane this is all becoming, all right? I am deeply troubled by the Iraq war. I think it was betrayal of our trust. And I'm unalterably opposed to prosecuting it any further, OK? So that's my position.

However, these are issues that ought to be settled at the ballot box. If you don't like it, vote against the people who did it. You don't sic a special prosecutor on him. I mean, that actually is criminalizing politics. This is politics.

Prosecuting war is political by nature, right? So you may not agree with the war. Then, you know, defeat the guy who did it!

FLAVIA COLGAN (MSNBC political contributor): Well, I think it's very troubling for two of the most powerful people -- I mean, people refer to Libby and Rove as sub-cabinet- or cabinet-level officials -- to look at the FBI, lie about a conversation.

O'Beirne: Liddy's prosecution is “a classic example ... of criminalizing political disputes. On the March 12, 2007, edition of NPR's Talk of the Nation, National Review's Kate O'Beirne asserted of Liddy: “We think he should be pardoned, Neal [Conan, host], because we think it's a classic example -- his prosecution, criminal prosecution -- of criminalizing political disputes. The only wrinkle in this case is it was both an intra-administration political dispute over, in part, who takes the responsibility for faulty intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction -- the CIA or the White House -- and, of course, the overall political dispute over the cause for going to war with Iraq. And it wound up in the hands -- which we argue it shouldn't have -- of a special counsel, and the rest is history, as is so often the case.”

Steyn: “Patrick Fitzgerald's disgrace” is “a huge victory not for justice or the law but for the criminalization of politics.” In a March 11, 2007, column, Mark Steyn wrote:

The cloud over the White House is Fitzgerald's, and his closing remarks to the jury were highly revealing. If he dislikes Bush and Cheney and the Iraq war, whoopee: run against them, or donate to the Democrats, or get a talk-radio show. Instead, he chose in full knowledge of the truth to maintain artificially a three-year cloud over the White House while the anti-Bush left frantically mistook its salivating for the first drops of a downpour. The result is the disgrace of Scooter Libby. Big deal. Patrick Fitzgerald's disgrace is the greater, and a huge victory not for justice or the law but for the criminalization of politics.