“The few are always the friends of the few”

Richard Cohen accuses Reggie Walton and Patrick Fitzgerald of Stalinism, because they’ve read the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and he hasn’t.

The inside-the-Beltway crowd really, really can’t stand the thought that their homeboy Scooter is going to do some time. Richard Cohen’s column in the Washington Post sums up what might be called The View from K Street. After generously conceding that perjury in front of a grand jury is “not an entirely trivial matter,” Cohen issues what can only be called a shriek of anger:

An unpopular war produced the popular cry for scalps and, in Libby’s case, the additional demand that he express contrition — a vestigial Stalinist-era yearning for abasement. No one has yet explained, though, how Libby can express contrition and still appeal his conviction. No matter. Antiwar sanctimony excuses the inexplicable.

You really have to read the whole thing to grasp the depths of Cohen’s irrational rage that One of Us is being mistreated for merely “practicing the dark arts of politics.” One of Cohen’s commenters nails it, providing a Shorter Richard Cohen:

If you and your ilk deceive and lie well enough to avoid getting nailed for the underlying crime, you should be rewarded by not suffering the consequences for the deception either.

Naturally, when you’re shrieking angrily you don’t bother to check your facts. Here’s the full text of my letter to Cohen. If he responds, and I get his permission, I will post that response in full.

Dear Mr. Cohen:

The “Stalinist” demand that a defendant express contrition as a condition of sentencing leniency is written into the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that apply to everyone convicted in Federal court. It wasn’t somehow made up on the spot at the demand of the antiwar lobby.

If you find the underlying principle creepy, I agree with you entirely. But your column as written embodies a clear error of fact, and I hope you will publish a frank retraction.

It would, of course, be too much to expect that you retract your entirely baseless slur on the professional integrity of Patrick Fitzgerald and Reggie Walton. After all, they’re not Washington insiders like Scooter Libby, so damage done to them isn’t real damage in your eyes, is it?


Mark Kleiman

P.s. I teach criminal justice policy at UCLA and used to run (during the early Reagan years) the policy shop of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, and I have testified before the Sentencing Commission on behalf of the Federation of American Scientists. If you don’t want to take my word for what the Guidelines say, call any lawyer who’s done Federal sentencing work. For example, you might call Scooter Libby.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com