Bush Says He's Not Ruling Out Pardon for Libby
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
President Bush held out the possibility yesterday that he eventually may pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as the White House sought to fend off Democratic outrage and conservative disappointment over the president's decision to commute the 30-month prison term of the vice president's former chief of staff.
A day after he intervened to keep Libby out of prison, Bush refused to reject the idea of issuing a full pardon, which some conservatives have been urging him to grant. A pardon would erase the four felony convictions Libby received for lying to federal investigators about his role in a White House leak of a covert CIA officer's identity.
"As to the future," the president told reporters, "I rule nothing in or nothing out."
Libby's defense team, however, indicated yesterday that the White House has provided ample help for now. William H. Jeffress Jr., one of Libby's attorneys, said a request for a pardon "is not anything that is imminent. We are focusing on the appeals."
Meanwhile, the federal judge who presided over one of the most high-profile Washington trials in years said yesterday that the elimination of Libby's prison term calls into question another part of Libby's sentence.
When Bush announced his decision Monday evening, he emphasized that Libby still faced what the president characterized as a "harsh" sentence, and noted that he was leaving in place a $250,000 fine and two years of supervised probation. Yesterday, however, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, a Bush appointee, filed a court order saying that federal law "does not appear to contemplate a situation in which a defendant may be placed under supervised release without first completing a term of incarceration."
Walton asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to tell the court by Monday how they think the matter should be handled "in unusual circumstances such as these."
As the judge tried to sort through the legal fallout, congressional Democrats began to mine the political consequences of the president's action. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) announced a hearing for next week to explore what he called "the presidential authority to grant clemency and how such power may be abused."
"Taken to its extreme," he said, "the use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."
Libby, a 56-year-old lawyer, was Vice President Cheney's top aide and a key figure in forging the administration's foreign policy until he was indicted in 2005. He was the only person charged in a three-year federal investigation, led by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, of whether any administration officials broke the law when they leaked to reporters the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. No one was charged with the leak itself.
Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was sent by the CIA to evaluate reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa for a nuclear weapons program. Wilson concluded that the reports were inaccurate. Shortly after the Iraq war started in 2003, he accused the White House of distorting intelligence to convince the public that the invasion was justified.
Libby was one of four high-ranking administration officials found to have leaked Plame's identity to Washington journalists. Prosecutors said the leak was part of a White House campaign, in which Cheney played a direct part, to tarnish Wilson's reputation.