President Bush has spared Scooter Libby from a 2½-year prison term, issuing an order that commutes his sentence, the AP reports. Libby will never have to go to jail, but his felony conviction will stand, and he will still serve two years probation and owe $250,000 in fines.
The Politico reported on June 17:
White House loyalists have begun arguing that clemency for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby — either a pardon or a commuted sentence — would be a way for an embattled President Bush to reassert himself, particularly among conservatives.
The White House has not ruled out a pardon for Libby, sources say. But several Republicans, who sense a movement in Libby’s favor, said a more likely possibility might be a presidential commutation — a reduction or elimination of Libby’s 2½-year federal prison sentence. Such a move, they said, would be less divisive for the country.
UPDATE: On June 5, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that the President was “not going to intervene.”
UPDATE II: From Bush’s statement today:
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.
UPDATE III: In March, Americans opposed pardoning Libby by a 3 to 1 margin.
UPDATE IV: Weekly Standard’s William Kristol predicted it all along. From Fox News Sunday, June 10, 2007:
KRISTOL: I think [the president] will not let Scooter Libby go to jail. He may not pardon him. He may commute the sentence, the prison sentence — in other words, say no prison sentence, but let Libby pay the $250,000 fine that Judge Walton imposed and therefore not overturn the actual verdict.
That way, he can say, “Look, a jury found that he made false statements. I’m not going to challenge that. But this man does not deserve to go to jail. The official recommendation was for a much shorter sentence. Judge Walton for some reason went for the maximum sentence. That’s not right. And therefore, I’m going to remove the prison sentence, commute the prison sentence but maybe let the fine go ahead.”
UPDATE V: Bloomberg notes, “Bush has granted fewer pardons — 113 — than any president in the past 100 years, while denying more than 1,000 requests, said Margaret Colgate Love, the Justice Department’s pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997. In addition, Bush has denied more than 4,000 commutation requests, and hundreds of requests for pardons and commutations are still pending, Love said.”
UPDATE VI: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): “The President’s decision to commute Mr. Libby’s sentence is disgraceful. Libby’s conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone.”
UPDATE VII: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “The President’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” More statements from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Judiciary chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and Rules chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
UPDATE VIII: Statement from Vice President Cheney: “I have always considered him [Libby] to be a man of the highest intellect, judgment and personal integrity — a man fully committed to protecting the vital security interests of the United States and its citizens. … The defense has indicated it plans to appeal the conviction in the case. Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man.”
UPDATE IX: Politico’s Crypt notes that House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) “was one of the few — and perhaps only — Republicans to applaud President Bush’s decision” to commute Libby’s sentence. Reaction by former senator Fred Thompson HERE.
UPDATE X: The New York Times editorial board writes, “Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.”
UPDATE XI: Bob Geiger has compiled the reaction of the Democratic presidential candidates HERE.