As the news continues to be peppered with reports about President Donald Trump’s troubling use of pardon powers — from Michael Flynn to Trump’s reported consideration of handing them out en masse to friends and family — American Oversight has obtained documents that shed light on the controversial and irregular 2018 pardon of Scooter Libby.
Trump issued a pardon for Libby — the one-time top aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2007 for obstructing justice and lying to investigators in the Valerie Plame leak case — on April 13, 2018. Reporting at the time, along with congressional testimony from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, revealed that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney had been left out of the loop regarding Trump’s pardons of Libby and Joe Arpaio, the anti-immigrant former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.
On April 17, 2018, American Oversight submitted a Freedom of Information Act request targeting communications about the Libby pardon from the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the Office of Public Affairs, and the Office of the Pardon Attorney to learn more. This first production of records in response to that request shows scrambling within the Office of the Pardon Attorney to respond to Libby’s reprieve.
On the night of April 12, the day before the pardon was issued, the documents show that then-Principal Deputy Director of Public Affairs Ian Prior forwarded an inquiry from Politico reporter Josh Gerstein, who asked whether Libby had a pardon petition pending, to Office of the Pardon Attorney executive officer Will Taylor. Taylor responded that “DOJ does not have a clemency petition for Irve ‘Scooter’ Libby.”
Just before 9 a.m. on the morning of the pardon, the records show that then-USA Today reporter Gregory Korte also emailed asking if Libby had a petition pending. Roughly an hour later, DOJ spokesperson Nicole Navas Oxman responded that Libby did not.
Another email chain from that afternoon shows Taylor having directed staff to create a special workflow for uploading the pardon to the Justice Department’s website listing Trump’s pardons. Officials also debated the wording of Libby’s entry on the site — further illustrating how unexpected Libby’s pardon was for the office.
Taylor later emailed staff, asking for help — at the request of the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs — compiling information about instances of the office having been bypassed by the Bush and Obama administrations, in an apparent attempt to develop a communications strategy regarding the Libby pardon.
The Constitution provides the president with the power to issue pardons, but the American people have the right to know how that power is being deployed. American Oversight will continue to investigate Trump’s pardons through the investigation of individual cases and other relevant areas — such as our lawsuit from the spring seeking records related to the president’s reported clemency task force, which the White House had set up in February 2020 and was reportedly led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
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