"President Bush’s commutation of the 30-month prison sentence for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, is neither wise nor just. It is clearly within the president’s executive powers, but that is beside the point.
We also agree that the 30-month sentence ordered by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton — a Reagan and Bush appointee — is harsh. It exceeds the 15-21 month guidelines for first-time offenders. A first-time offender who is no danger to the community with an admirable record of public service deserves the lower range, and for that reason the unusually long sentence was unjust.
But none of this exonerates the commutation. Perjury is a serious crime. This newspaper argued on behalf of its seriousness in the 1990s, during the Clinton perjury controversy, and today is no different. We’d have hoped that more conservatives would agree. The integrity of the judicial process depends on fact-finding and truth-telling. A jury found Libby guilty of not only perjury but also obstruction justice and lying to a grand jury. It handed down a very supportable verdict. This is true regardless of the trumped-up investigation and political witch hunt. It is true regardless of the unjustifiably harsh sentence.
Had Mr. Bush reduced Libby’s sentence to 15 months, we might have been able to support the decision. Alas, he did not.
The Washington Times has taken the high road here. This should be applauded. This newspaper has been remarkable in its persistent support for policies that are hard to support. Evidently, there is a "sticking point" for everyone.
The president has now made it clear that he will probably pardon Libby before leaving office. That means (to me at least) that the commutation is merely a device to keep Libby from "singing" to the prosecutor and judge rather than go to prison. The felony conviction and fine would, of course, also disappear with the grant of a pardon.
This whole business is clearly a cynical manipulation of the criminal justice system for factional advantage. We will now see if the American people care about this. pl