No Pardon Anytime Soon

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, June 15, 2007; 1:34 PM

The White House has officially ruled out the possibility of a presidential pardon for Scooter Libby until he exhausts the appeals process -- a timetable that is all but certain to lead to significant prison time for the former top aide to Vice President Cheney.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton yesterday ordered Libby to start serving his 30-month sentence in a matter of weeks. Libby's appeal will presumably take months if not years.

Libby can avoid prison time only if one of two things happens soon: A special panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overrules Walton and allows Libby to remain free pending appeal; or Bush goes back on his word and grants a pardon while the appeal is still pending. Both are highly unlikely.

White House officials yesterday amplified earlier assertions that Bush is holding off on any action for the foreseeable future.

"Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process," said White House spokeswoman Dana M. Perino. "The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife and their young children, and all that they're going through."

Here's Tony Snow, asked about a pardon at his press briefing yesterday: "What the President has said is 'Let the legal process work itself out.' We're just not engaging in that right now."

Here's White House counselor Dan Bartlett, asked about a pardon on CNN yesterday: "It is important that the appeals process be able to be exhausted. Scooter and his team [are] going through that right now. And we'll reserve judgment until those appeals are exhausted."

The White House position must be a bit sobering for Libby's ardent defenders -- including those in the vice president's office . Their belief that Libby was railroaded is evidently not shared by at least some people at the highest levels of the White House.

Today's Coverage

Carol D. Leonnig and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post: "A federal judge ordered Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff to surrender in six to eight weeks to begin serving his 30-month prison term, increasing the pressure for President Bush to decide soon whether he will pardon the only administration official prosecuted in a White House leak investigation.

"U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said both the law and his own sense of fairness required that he reject I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's request to remain free while appealing his conviction for perjury and obstruction of the leak investigation, an approach that could have deferred the pardon question for years. . . .

"Walton also expressed irritation at a six-page brief filed last week by a dozen prominent constitutional scholars urging that Libby remain free pending appeal, on grounds that the prosecution lacked proper legal authority. The brief from the group, which included Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz but was dominated by conservative legal luminaries, including former Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, was 'not persuasive' and bordered on insulting, Walton said.

"'The submission was not something I would expect from a first-year law student,' a frowning Walton told Libby's new appellate attorney, Lawrence Robbins. 'It appeared to be produced . . . for the sole purpose of throwing their names out there so somehow I'd feel pressure.'"

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