Chris Matthews, who was taking the day off today, called into the 7 p.m. edition of Hardball to react to the breaking news of Pres. Bush commuting Scooter Libby’s 2 1/2 year-prison sentence.
“I’m not surprised,” he told msnbc’s David Shuster.
“I’ve been saying for weeks I thought the president would pardon him. I didn’t think he would do this ‘three quarters of the way’ pardon which would leave him with a fine to pay and being disbarred.”
For Matthews, Libby was “at the concourse of intelligence, at the concourse of case for war, and apparently also at the concourse of the leaking operation.”
“Libby is in trouble for being part of a team – part of a team whose purpose it was to sell the case for war and to perhaps make sure that someone who was out to debunk the case – Ambassador Joseph Wilson – wasn’t credible. So everything he’s been accused of and found guilty of were efforts that were very much a part of the administration’s political purpose.”
“The irony in this case is that the president said he would ‘deal with anyone who leaked,’ and now his way of dealing with Scooter Libby is to pardon him.”
“For him to say that the penalty is ‘excessive’ may well be true, but it was the same crime that President Bill Clinton was impeached for by a Republican House of Representatives and in which 50 U.S. senators, Republicans, voted to remove him from office. So Republicans as a party thought perjury and obstruction of justice were sufficient to remove a twice-elected president from office. And now the president is saying that 30 months in prison is an excessive penalty for the same exact crime. It’s inconsistent.”
Matthews considers the human aspects of all this. “He was President Bush’s political ally, so I certainly understand that he sympathizes with Scooter Libby and his family. The human aspects of this are totally understandable. And it may well be that Libby has suffered enough already and will suffer in the future… you could argue that the punishment has been exacted without Libby going to prison.”
Matthews thinks this decision wasn’t exactly a proud moment for the White House. “If the president were proud of his decision (and that’s his decision and his right to make it), he would have held something at the Rose Garden. He would have said it in person and not issued a statement on paper. He wouldn’t have done it on a 4th of July holiday period with everyone out of town. He would have done it with some flourish and some pride.”
But for the Hardball host, the misinformation on the case for war – and that legacy – lives on. “The 25 to 30 percent of the country who believe in the president’s performance are largely conservatives, and they believe in the war. It’s frightening that 40 percent still think that Iraq attacked us on 9/11. Twenty percent of the country still believes there were weapons of mass destruction discovered by our military forces when they went into Iraq.”
“The misinformation in this country remains after all these years – because of the propaganda before we went to war. The results are still in effect. We’re still under a misunderstanding of the nature of why we went to war. That’s the tragedy here.”
Chris Matthews will provide more analysis on ‘Today’ Tuesday.