Bush Does Cheney's Bidding: Libby's Sentence Commuted

Bush has often spoken out about how he doesn’t believe in using this power. This is the third time he has used it. Coincidence it’s on the VP’s chief of staff? Makes me want to vomit.

WASHINGTON — President Bush today wiped away the prison sentence of convicted former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, saying it was an “excessive” punishment for a “first-time offender with years of exceptional public service.”
On the day that Libby’s last bid to stay out of prison was rejected by an appeals court, Bush said he decided to act – not to pardon Libby of the crime, but to commute his 30-month sentence. Bush’s action spares frees Libby from prison, but it does not erase his conviction. It “leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby,” Bush said, which will likely mean a loss of his license to practice law. Libby also must still serve two years’ probation and pay a $250,000 fine.
The president’s decision to pardon criminals or commute their prison terms cannot be overturned by Congress or the courts.
It can be criticized, however, and Democrats were quick to lambaste the president.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called it “disgraceful.” Libby’s conviction “was the one faint glimmer of accountability for the White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone.”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a presidential candidate, said it was typical of an administration that “has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.” Added Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): “Even Paris Hilton had to go to jail.”
Libby, 56, was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and a powerful figure inside the Bush White House during the build-up to the Iraq War. He was questioned by the FBI in the fall of 2003 over whether he leaked the name of a CIA officer whose husband had publicly accused Bush and Cheney of falsely claiming that Iraqi agents had tried to purchase the fuel for nuclear weapons in Africa.
Libby denied that he had talked about Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson, during June 2003, but nine witnesses testified that he had spoken of her.
He was then prosecuted for lying to the FBI and to a grand jury and for obstructing justice. In March, he was convicted by a jury, and last month, a federal judge sentenced him 2 ½ years behind bars.
This morning, Libby was on the verge of becoming the first high-level White House official to be sent to prison since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals turned down his request to stay free, saying he had not raised a “substantial question” about his conviction. William Jeffress, one of Libby’s lawyers, said that Libby would have no comment.
“As for the defense lawyers,” Jeffress said, “we continue to believe the conviction itself is unjust, but are grateful for the president’s action in commuting the prison sentence.”
Some legal observers said it still would be possible for the defense to continue the appeal; if it is successful, Libby would then avoid the taint of the felony conviction and the attendant loss of his law license.
Jeffress said they would indeed fight to have the entire case thrown out. “We will plan to continue the appeal on the ground that the prosecution and conviction were unjust,” he said.
Libby’s plight posed a political dilemma for Bush. No president in 100 years has been as stingy with the pardon power, said experts who track pardons and commutations. President Bush has issued only a third as many as pardons, for example, as President Ronald Reagan during the same time in office. Moreover, many of Bush’s pardons wiped the record clean for persons who had already served their sentences.
Bush’s approval rating with the American public also has sagged badly during his second term. But many of his strongest supporters are conservatives who believe Libby should not go to prison-and, indeed, should not have been prosecuted in the first place.
They argued that no crime was committed when Plame’s identity became public. They say she was not a true covert agent, and they note that others admitted to having revealed Plame’s identity, including former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in a conversation with columnist Robert Novak. Conservative activists said Bush has demanded loyalty from his close aides, and they said he owed the same to Libby.
But Patrick Fitzgerald, the Bush appointee who served as special prosecutor in the case, argued that the rule of law requires the same rules, not special treatment, for powerful people. “The truth matters, and station in life does not,” he argued during Libby’s sentencing hearing.
david.savage@latimes.com
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.