One of the big questions before President Bush left office was whether he would give a slew of presidential pardons. The biggest question mark was regarding former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, the man that was convicted of perjuring himself in the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame leak.
Earlier in the year, Bush had commuted Libby’s sentence. (Libby’s initial sentence was a felony conviction, 30 months in prison, a $250,000 fine and a 2-year probation period. The commutation only removed the prison time.) This was controversial, as it was without presidential precedent and seemed to reward a man that had been convicted by a jury of his peers. Many were convinced that Bush, with pressure from former Vice President Cheney, would eventually pardon Libby, allowing him to go back to his old life as a non-felon lawyer.
In the end, Bush didn’t pardon Libby. This makes Bush’s initial reason for commutation seem more legitimate. Bush’s argument is that while he respected the jury’s verdict:
…the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.
This sounds fine, but it begs the question: Did Libby get this only because of his relationship to the president? Of course, but in and of itself, if the decision is reasonable, it doesn’t make it any less right. There are many miscarriages of justice that are not well-known enough to cross the president’s desk. It would be a much nicer world if every legal mistake would be corrected in such a fashion.
Cheney is displeased. He expected Libby to get the pardon. Bush could have easily pardoned Libby. It is doubtful that it would have made him much less popular. But Bush stuck by his original point, which makes him principled, at least in this one incident.