Bush Commutes Libby’s Sentence
The President commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence today, eliminating the prison term but leaving the non-incarcerative sanctions in place. There is no surprise here but it does bring up at least two interesting issues. The first is the way in which Judge Reggie Walton was pivotal in forcing Bush’s hand. Once Judge Walton decided to impose the prison sentence immediately, Bush was left only two options: infuriating his base or nakedly giving cover to a political and professional ally. He did manage to split the baby a bit – by commuting his sentence, rather than pardoning him, Libby will now have to live with at least a few of the nasty collateral sanctions (potential loss of voting rights, loss of the ability to obtain certain professional licenses, etc.) that come along with a felony criminal conviction.
The second interesting issue is that this maneuver shows how the executive can manipulate sentences. I don’t know federal law, but I wonder whether Bush could have ordered imposition of a different, lesser prison term. Could he have altered the length (to say nothing of terms) of probation? Could he have put Libby on house arrest for eight months? And what if Libby gets caught driving drunk next month. Can he be sent to the pokey for a probation violation? Given that Bush respects the jury’s verdict, why exactly is probation, rather than 30 months, or 20 months, or 6 months, appropriate?
Sometimes a President has to spend some political capital for a friend. He did so today – a bit sooner than he might have liked.
UPDATE: Doug Berman has a flock of good posts here, here, and here. Orin Kerr adds good commentary here . And Ellen Podgor has some thoughts and questions here. Then there is P.S. Ruckman, Jr., who has dedicated an entire blog to the (partially realized) prospect of a pardon for Libby. It’s at www.libbypardon.net.