During the White House press briefing this morning, spokesman Tony Snow characterized President Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison term as “routine.”
“The president spent weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed,” said Snow, adding, “I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look.” Watch it:
There was nothing routine about this commutation. Although Snow said Bush consulted with White House advisers, the New York Times reported this morning that the decision “seemed to catch Justice Department officials, and even some of Mr. Bush’s closest aides, off guard. … They were floored.” Additionally, the Washington Post noted that Bush circumvented the normal route for commuting a sentence:
For the first time in his presidency, Bush commuted a sentence without running requests through lawyers at the Justice Department, White House officials said. He also did not ask the chief prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, for his input, as routinely happens in cases routed through the Justice Department’s pardon attorney.
Bush granted Libby clemency even though he was appealing his sentence and had not yet served any jail time. According to the Justice Department, commutation requests “’generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence,’ and they are generally not granted to those appealing their convictions.”
Additionally, Snow’s comment that Bush “spent weeks and weeks” figuring out how to proceed on Libby is contradicted by a senior administration official who said that “Bush quickly made his decision yesterday after hearing that the U.S. Court of Appeals had refused to keep Libby out of prison while his appeal ran its course.”
UPDATE: Arlen at The Daily Background has more on Libby’s “supervised release.”
QUESTION: And just as a follow-up, can you shed any light on the president’s process of deliberations, his — how we went about thinking about this decision which you said he considered over weeks and weeks?
SNOW: Only to a very trivial extent because, as you know, there’s a very important debate going on in Washington about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of deliberations within a White House.
I will leave at this: The president spent weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed. And they looked at a whole lot of options and they spent a lot of time talking through the options and doing some very detailed legal analysis.
QUESTION: (inaudible) outside the White House?
SNOW: I’m not going to characterize beyond that. […]
QUESTION: Can I follow on that? If there are more than 3,000 current petitions for commutation — not pardons, but commutation — in the federal system, under President Bush, will all 3,000 of those be held to the same standard that the president applied to Scooter Libby?
SNOW: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Tony, I’m trying to get a handle on it. Are you saying this White House handled this in an extraordinary manner or in a routine manner?
SNOW: I think it handled it in a routine manner in the sense that the president took a careful look. But it is an extraordinary case by virtue of the fact that not only do you have the extreme level of publicity, but also that in many ways the hand was called by a court decision to go ahead and send Scooter Libby to jail while he was still in the middle of his appeals process.
QUESTION: But how could it not be extraordinary to grant something to someone who didn’t even ask for it?
SNOW: I just think it’s just the president, again, using his commutation power to do what he thought was necessary to address what he thought was an excessive punishment.
QUESTION: But absent a request, he wouldn’t even have known about this case if it didn’t involve his formeraide.
SNOW: Well, no, I think you probably would have reminded him of it. The fact — you talk about if it had not involved a formeraide. This is the thing that has been in the headlines for quite awhile.