Time Magazine reports today on the “final and painful piece of business” President Bush and Vice President Cheney debated in the waning days of the Bush administration: whether or not Bush would pardon Cheney’s top aide Scooter Libby, who had lied to prosecutors in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case. For over a month, Cheney “had been pleading, cajoling, even pestering Bush” to pardon Libby. Aides said Cheney “seemed prepared to push his nine-year-old relationship with Bush to the breaking point — and perhaps past it — over the fate” of Libby. In the end, he wasn’t pleased with the result:
Cheney’s persistence became nearly as big an issue as the pardon itself. “Cheney really got in the President’s face,” says a longtime Bush-family source. “He just wouldn’t give it up.” […]
Bush would decide alone. In private, he was bothered by Libby’s lack of repentance. … A few days later, about a week before they would become private citizens, Bush pulled Cheney aside after a morning meeting and told him there would be no pardon. Cheney looked stricken. Most officials respond to a presidential rebuff with a polite thanks for considering the request in the first place. But Cheney, an observer says, “expressed his disappointment and disagreement with the decision … He didn’t take it well.”
Some Bush aides suspected there was “darker possibility” for his motives than simply wanting to save an old friend. As a former Bush senior aide explained, “I’m sure the President and [chief of staff] Josh [Bolten] and Fred had a concern that somewhere, deep in there, there was a cover-up.”
After Bush informed Cheney of his decision, Libby then asked to plead his case to Bush himself, but was directed to White House Counsel Fred Fielding. Three days before Bush’s presidency was to expire, Libby met with Fielding, who “kept listening for signs of remorse. But none came.” Bush finally met with his personal lawyer and trusted adviser Jim Sharp:
If the presidential staff were polled, the result would be 100 to 1 against a pardon, Bush joked. Then he turned to Sharp. “What’s the bottom line here? Did this guy lie or not?”
The lawyer, who had followed the case very closely, replied affirmatively. Bush indicated that he had already come to that conclusion too. “O.K., that’s it,” Bush said.
With just one day left in the Bush administration, Bush again informed Cheney that Libby would get no pardon. In an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes shortly after leaving office, Cheney expressed his dismay at the decision. “[Libby] was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice,” Cheney complained, “and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush’s decision.”