When Scooter Libby was indicted last fall, leading Democrats pressed the White House to publicly rule out the possibility of a pardon in the case. Then White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to do so, saying that he couldn't and wouldn't "speculate" about any such thing.
With Karl Rove apparently off the hook in the Valerie Plame case, the attention is back on Libby again now, and Newsday examines the pardon question anew. TV legal pundit and former federal prosecutor Joseph diGenova suggests that a Libby pardon is inevitable. "I think ultimately, of course, there are going to be pardons," he tells Newsday. "These are the kinds of cases in which historically presidents have given pardons."
In refusing to discuss the possibility of pardons last fall, McClellan said such talk was premature because of the "presumption of innocence" afforded to criminal defendants. That presumption lasts at least until the end of Libby's criminal trial, which is currently set to begin in February 2007. But could Bush pardon Libby even before the trial begins? He could. As Newsday notes, Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon in advance for any crimes with which he might have been charged.
But wouldn't Bush just wait to pardon Libby on his way out of the White House in 2009 -- especially if Libby's lawyers can drag out appeals to keep him out of prison until then? One lawyer familiar with the Plame case says it may depend on the congressional elections in November. If Republicans maintain control of Congress, then Bush might want to pardon Libby before his trial to prevent Dick Cheney and Karl Rove from having to testify and to prevent the public disclosure of embarrassing information about the role of the vice president's office in the discrediting of Joseph Wilson. But if Democrats win either house -- and with it, the power to launch investigations -- Bush might want to wait on pardoning Libby so as to have the existence of a trial and subsequent appeals as an excuse for not cooperating with congressional investigators.