Three days ago, President Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, ex aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction and sentenced to 2.5 years hard time. I had predicted in this blog (June 14th) a full presidential pardon, at almost exactly this moment. But this was not a pardon, just a commutation of the sentence, which means that Libby stands convicted of his crimes but need not serve his sentence.
I did not foresee this outcome because I misoverestimated the president’s integrity. A full pardon would have been simple, legal, and straightforward. The president would say, in effect, “Libby’s petty wrongdoings are insignificant in light of his service.” A power play, but clear.
Instead, what we have is, “Libby is indeed a convicted criminal, but he won’t be punished because I like him.” This is the most unprincipled statement the president could have made, affirming his delusion that the executive branch is not answerable to the law.
Furthermore, the legal basis of his action questionable, which will surely lead to further arm-wrestling with Congress, and which eventually will necessitate a full pardon by the president, who did not have the fortitude to do the wrong thing correctly the first time. Thus, I still predict a full pardon, by January, 2009.