When a reporter asked Scott McClellan last week if he could rule out the possibility that George W. Bush might pardon Scooter Libby, the White House press secretary said he wouldn't "speculate about things like that." Today in Washington, the Senate Democratic leadership delivered a message straight to McClellan's boss: Don't even think about it.
In a letter to the president, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and three other Democrats said that while it's too early to judge whether Libby is guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged, "it is not too early for you to reassure the American people that you understand the enormous gravity of the allegations. To this end, we urge you to pledge that if Mr. Libby or anyone else is found guilty of a crime in connection with Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, you will not exercise your authority to issue a presidential pardon."
The Democrats said it is "crucial" for Bush to make it clear to Libby, in advance, that he "will not be able to rely on his extraordinary close relationship with you or Vice President Cheney to obtain the kind of extraordinarily special treatment unavailable to ordinary Americans." They urged Bush not to do anything to interfere with Fitzgerald's investigation, and they called on him to reveal whether anyone in the White House -- including Cheney or White House counsel Harriet Miers -- has discussed the possibility of a pardon with Libby.
The Democrats' letter is another in a series of one-day events designed to keep the focus on the Plame case and Iraq rather than on whatever it is the Bush administration would rather be discussing. But there's a longer-term concern behind the request, too. If Libby knows he'll be pardoned, he has no incentive to cooperate with Fitzgerald and every incentive to simply drag out the prosecution as long as he possibly can. If, on the other hand, Libby knows that a pardon is off the table, he may decide it's worth his while to strike a deal with Fitzgerald in which he gives up information on others in the White House -- or force a trial in which Cheney and other White House officials would inevitably be called to testify. The Democrats have got to like those prospects, and they know that the prospect of a presidential pardon could stand in the way of either of them.