Bush won’t rule out eventual pardon for Libby



By Matt Apuzzo

WASHINGTON – President Bush on Tuesday refused to rule out an eventual pardon for former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out,” the president said a day after commuting Libby’s 2«-year prison term in the CIA leak case.

Bush said he had weighed his decision carefully to erase Libby’s prison time. He said the jury’s conviction of Libby should stand but that the 30-month prison term was too severe.

“I made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe was the right decision to make in this case,” the president said. “And I stand by it.” At the same time, he left the door open for the possibility of a pardon later.

Bush spoke to reporters Tuesday after visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His decision was roundly criticized by Democrats; Republicans were more subdued, with some welcoming the decision and but some conservatives saying he should have gone further.

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Earlier Tuesday, chief Bush spokesman Tony Snow had declined to rule out the possibility of an eventual pardon and called the president satisfied with his decision to commute Libby’s 2 1/2-year prison sentence.

“He thought any jail time was excessive. He did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail,” Snow said.

The spokesman told reporters at a White House briefing that even with Bush’s decision, Libby remains with a felony conviction on his record, two years’ probation, a $250,000 fine and probable loss of his legal career. “So this is hardly a slap on the wrist,” Snow said. “It is a very severe penalty.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to prison, declined Tuesday to discuss the case or his views on sentencing. “To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday’s events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president’s commutation decision, which would be inappropriate,” the judge said in an e-mail.

With prison seeming all but certain for Libby, Bush on Monday suddenly spared the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. His move came just five hours after a federal appeals court panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. The Bureau of Prisons had already assigned Libby a prison identification number.

Snow was pressed several times on whether the president might eventually grant a full pardon to Libby, who had been convicted of lying and conspiracy in the CIA leak investigation. The press secretary declined to say anything categorically.

“The reason I will say I’m not going to close a door on a pardon is simply this: that Scooter Libby may petition for one,” Snow said. “But the president has done what he thinks is appropriate to resolve this case.”

“There is always a possibility – or there’s an avenue open – for anybody to petition for consideration of a pardon,” he added.

Snow did suggest that Bush was “getting pounding on the right for not granting a full pardon.”

Asked whether Cheney – who calls Libby a friend and who has enormous influence within the White house – had pressed for Bush to commute Libby’s sentence, Snow said, “I don’t have direct knowledge. But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I’m sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views.”

“I’m sure that the vice president may have expressed an opinion … he may of recused himself. I honestly don’t know,” Snow said.

However, the president made the decision without seeking any advice from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department, the White House had previously acknowledged.

Snow defended Bush’s decision to not follow the usual course of running the matter past the Justice Department, saying details of the case were still fresh in everybody’s mind, and that the president did not need to be brought up to date on details of the case.

Democrats have charged cronyism in sparing Libby jail time. But Snow said, “The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone, and to do that is to misconstrue the nature of the deliberations.”

“He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to maintain the faith in the jury system, and he did that by keeping intact the conviction and some of the punishments,” Snow said.

Snow was asked by a reporter if anyone in the administration would ever apologize for what prompted the entire investigation – public disclosure that Valerie Plame, the wife of sharp anti-war critic Joseph Wilson, was an undercover CIA officer.

“Yeah, it’s improper to be leaking those names,” Snow said. Pressed on whether someone in the administration owed the American public an apology, Snow said, “I’ll apologize. Done.”

Wilson, meanwhile, suggested the president’s decision was a cover-up attempt to protect Cheney and perhaps his own office. He said Congress should investigate whether the president and Cheney were obstructing justice. “It’s about them,” Wilson told MSNBC from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wilson, Plame and their children moved to Santa Fe earlier this year.

In an interview with APTN, Wilson called Bush’s action “a continuation of the cover up for which Scooter Libby was originally convicted.”

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald disputed Bush’s assertion that the prison term was excessive. Libby was sentenced under the same laws as other criminals, Fitzgerald said. “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals.”

Libby’s attorney, Theodore Wells, said in a statement that the Libby family was grateful for Bush’s action and continued to believe in his innocence.

Because he was not pardoned, Libby remains the highest-ranking White House official convicted of a crime since the Iran-Contra affair.

That didn’t stop an avalanche of criticism from Democrats.

“Libby’s conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush’s decision showed the president “condones criminal conduct.”