Ensconced in his family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush today played the sneak thief -- commuting Scooter Libby's prison sentence
, after a federal appeals court (which included a judge who had a hand in appointing Kenneth Starr back in the bad old days of the anti-Clinton coup attempt by the Republican Congress,) denied
Scooter's request to stay out of jail pending his appeal. Many analysts had thought Bush would wait until the end of his term, or even until after the November 2008 elections to do what most of us believed he would do -- pardon Libby outright. Instead, Bush surprised everyone by splitting the difference -- upholding Libby's conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges but keeping his, or rather Dick's, boy out of the slammer (he won't do the 2 1/2 years, but he will still have to pay the $250,000 fine, which should quickly be taken care of by his neocon friends -- and Fred Thompson... and his felony conviction remains in tact, meaning he'll probably lose his law license.) The White House issued the following statement
-- which amounts to "on the one hand, on the other hand" -- on Bush's behalf:
The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today rejected Lewis Libby's request to remain free on bail while pursuing his appeals for the serious convictions of perjury and obstruction of justice. As a result, Mr. Libby will be required to turn himself over to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his prison sentence.
I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby's appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.
From the very beginning of the investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's name, I made it clear to the White House staff and anyone serving in my administration that I expected full cooperation with the Justice Department. Dozens of White House staff and administration officials dutifully cooperated.
After the investigation was under way, the Justice Department appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Counsel in charge of the case. Mr. Fitzgerald is a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged.
This case has generated significant commentary and debate. Critics of the investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak.
Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation. Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime:
Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury.
Others point out that a jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice. They argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public
trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told
the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place.
Both critics and defenders of this investigation have made important
points. I have made my own evaluation. In preparing for the decision I
am announcing today, I have carefully weighed these arguments and the circumstances surrounding this case.
Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.
I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.
The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power.
Jeff Toobin just called this "a complete departure from what is usually done. Scooter Libby is getting something that millions of prisoners would die for."
Toobin also added that Libby was sentence precisely within the federal sentencing guidelines for obstruction of justice convictions, so Bush is free to have the opinion that the sentence was excessive, but he is not accurate. At the same time, Bush's decision is irrevocable in that he has the power to do it, and there are no appeals. Case closed, game over.
Democrats are sure to be furious about this, but I wonder whether right wingers will be satisfied either, given that their wunderkind remains a felon in the eyes of the law. Bush did not wipe his slate clean.Update:
Republican reactions are starting to roll in...
Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner
Mark Levin, at the start of his show, expressed his regret that the president didn't all-out pardon Libby, but stressed on his listeners that the president will get attacked by the Left for the commutation and he deserves support for doing as much as he did.
The NRO folks also post The Precious
RedStater Mark I had been whingeing
for a pardon for federal inmate number: 28301-016 since the federal appeals court denied his request to stay out of the slammer, and now, for Mark, vindication ... sort of, since it's kind of hard to tell
if the Staters are happy with the less-than-pardon.
On another note, Paris Hilton should be pissed. When her sentence was commuted, it was as if the world was going to end, and now this
Ambassador Joe Wilson just told CNN that the president's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was shameful, and said, pointedly, "Scooter Libby is a traitor." Now Joe DiGenova is attempting to clean it up for Scooter.
Barack Obama's statement:
"This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people's faith in a government that puts the country's progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."Back to CNN: Jeff Toobin is now debating Joe DiGenova, making the point that Bush's commutation of the sentence was highly unusual, it having not gone through the normal procedure, and having completely bypassed the Department of Justice. Then again, why pass by there, their chief is Bush's butler...
Update 3: Hillary Clinton's reaction to the Scooter commutation:
"Today's decision is yet another example that this Administration simply considers itself above the law. This case arose from the Administration's politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies. Four years into the Iraq war, Americans are still living with the consequences of this White House's efforts to quell dissent. This commutation sends the clear signal that in this Administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."
Rudy Giuliani, former federal prosecutor and apparently, newly minted believer in obstruction fo justice, perjury and lying to the FBI, had this to say:
"After evaluating the facts, the President came to a reasonable decision and I
believe the decision was correct."
More reactions to the commutation here. A sample:
"While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the president's decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life." — Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.
Did I mention that Thompson is a contributor to Scooter's defense fund? Means he'll be one of the sops paying Scootie-Scoot's fine.
Meanwhile, the New York Times explains the difference between a commutation and a full pardon here.
Labels: Bush administration, CIA, CIA leak trial, George W. Bush, neocons, Plamegate, Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame