Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush commutes Scooter Libby's jail sentence

President Bush has issued an order of executive clemency in favour of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby:

"WHEREAS Lewis Libby was convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the case United States v. Libby, Crim. No. 05-394 (RBW), for which a sentence of 30 months' imprisonment, 2 years' supervised release, a fine of $250,000, and a special assessment of $400 was imposed on June 22, 2007;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, pursuant to my powers under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, do hereby commute the prison terms imposed by the sentence upon the said Lewis Libby to expire immediately, leaving intact and in effect the two-year term of supervised release, with all its conditions, and all other components of the sentence.

IN WITNESS THEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.


Libby was convicted of perjury in the investigation relating to the the illegal leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the press. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly critical of the Bush administration claims of Saddam Hussein's sourcing of nuclear materials in Africa. It has widely been believed that Plame's name was leaked by the administration in retaliation. Libby wasn't convicted of leaking the name but of lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak. He was within days of having to report to prison, since efforts keep him out of jail until an appeal was heard had failed; but I guess Dick Cheney had no intention of seeing his friend going to jail, especially since it was the result of him taking the heat for the political machinations of the White House.

It would be interesting to know whether this has created a rift between the president and vice president since I suspect Cheney and Libby would have preferred a full pardon rather than a commuted sentence? Then again maybe the pardon will come just as the president leaves office at the beginning of 2009?

No charges have yet been brought against anyone for leaking an active CIA agent's name as far as I know. Something doesn't seem quite right there.

I suspect there will be some thoughtful commentary over at Balkanization on the matter soon.

Update: Edward Lazarus is one of those who thinks there is no justification for the President's decision

"Bush's failure of justification is damning. Commutation, especially in a high-profile and politically-charged case, is a serious undertaking. It is an unreviewable act that has the extraordinary effect of exempting a single individual from the usual application of the law.

Here, the presiding judge, a Republican, deemed the evidence of Scooter's guilt to be overwhelming. Moreover, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals, including two Republicans, has concluded that Scooter has no substantial issues on which to base an appeal.

Against this backdrop, Bush bears the burden of showing that his act of commutation served an aspect of fairness and justice that would be otherwise slighted in Scooter's case. Absent such a rationale, the commutation must be seen as one of three things (or some combination of any of three): a decision simply to substitute Bush's sense of justice for that of the court's; an act of political and personal loyalty; or, more nefariously, an attempt to insure Scooter's silence.

To varying degrees, all three possibilities point to an Administration that considers itself above customary legal constraint - a consistent and dangerous theme for this Administration. Since I write this on July 4, it seems only fitting to describe this as un-American - or at least hostile to the America we desire to be."

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