Said the President yesterday,
The Constitution gives the president the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power.And it seems that Mr. Bush used his own judgment in this, keeping the decision to himself.
As reported by Michael Abramowitz in his article aptly titled A Decision Made Largely Alone:
President Bush limited his deliberations over commuting the prison term of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to a few close aides, opting not to consult with the Justice Department and rebuffing efforts by friends to lobby on Libby's behalf, administration officials and people close to Bush said yesterday.Mr. Abramowitz also noted that one of the key issues with the President's decision revolves around that ever-present notion of executive privilege:
"Executive clemency is the president's exclusive power under the Constitution, and there are precedents for exercising that power without going through the pardon attorney process," said Bush spokesman Tony Fratto.From Adam Liptak, we learn Commutation Doesn’t Equal a Full Pardon:
President Bush’s commutation of I. Lewis Libby Jr.’s prison sentence yesterday was not the equivalent of a pardon.I don't undestand why the President didn't just end the whole thing and put it to bed. Frankly, it seems to me as if he's both two-faced and splitting hairs.
Had Mr. Bush pardoned Mr. Libby, it would have been easier for Mr. Libby to rebuild his life. Mr. Libby’s ability to practice law, for instance, may be affected by the fact that Mr. Bush chose to commute his sentence rather than pardon him.
“The garden-variety pardon is a forgiveness,” said Margaret Colgate Love, the pardon lawyer at the Justice Department for most of the 1990s. “It does not expunge or seal a conviction, but it provides relief from the collateral legal consequences of a conviction.”
Commutations, by contrast, only make the punishment milder.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg tells us For President, Libby Case Was a Test of Will. Er, I think he failed the test.
President Bush’s decision to commute the sentence of I. Lewis Libby Jr. was the act of a liberated man — a leader who knows that, with 18 months left in the Oval Office and only a dwindling band of conservatives still behind him, he might as well do what he wants.The President's decision will only help continue to weaken his administration. Why do I say this? I say this because now Mr. Libby will continue with his appeals, and the case will continue to be in the news. Had the President just pardoned the whole mess, it would have been history.
Mr. Bush comes at the decision a weakened leader, with his public approval ratings at historic lows for any president, his domestic agenda faltering on Capitol Hill and his aides facing subpoenas from the Democrats who control Congress. Those circumstances offer him a certain amount of freedom; as Mr. Black said, “He knows he’s going to get hammered no matter what he does.”
Indeed, to administration critics, the commutation was a subversion of justice, an act of hypocrisy by a president who once vowed that anyone in his administration who broke the law would “be taken care of.”
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, called it a “get- out-of-jail-free card.” Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, called it “a betrayal of trust of the American people.”
But to the conservative believers who make up Mr. Bush’s political base, the Libby case was a test of the president’s political will. In the end, although he did not go so far as to pardon Mr. Libby, Mr. Bush apparently decided that it was a test he did not want to fail.
“It became an issue of character and courage, really,” said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, who had argued in his magazine that if Mr. Bush was not going to pardon Mr. Libby, at least he should commute his sentence. “I certainly think Bush did the right thing and I think he did something important for his presidency. I think conservatives would have lost respect for Bush if he had not commuted Libby’s sentence.”
As it is, it's half-assed, and it's only going to continue to serve as a devisive political hot potato.
But then, half-assed is really a trademark of this administration, so I ought not be surprised.