Libby spared the clink

Hours after a court decided that the vice president's former chief of staff could not remain free on bail, President Bush comes through with a commutation.

By Alex Koppelman

Published July 2, 2007 10:11PM (EDT)

Looks like Scooter Libby will remain a free man, able -- if he wants -- to see the aspens turn. Hours after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia put pressure on President Bush by denying Libby's request to stay out of prison on bond while he pursued his appeals, the president acted the way some of his supporters had been encouraging him to do, commuting Libby's prison sentence.

Bush didn't give Libby a full pardon; the felony conviction will remain on the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney's record, and he will still have to pay the $250,000 fine imposed on him by presiding Judge Reggie Walton, and serve two years of probation. But this does mean that Libby will not -- assuming he abides by the terms of his probation -- have to spend any time in prison. He was originally sentenced to serve 30 months.

This marks a shift in official White House policy on the issue of a pardon or commutation for Libby. Think Progress has already pointed out that, less than a month ago, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was saying that "given the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way that the president has handled this for the past year or so, he's not going to intervene." But the panel's decision earlier today -- which essentially said that the issues Libby would raise on appeal did not raise a substantial enough question for him to remain free on bail, the standard in federal cases -- could have meant that Libby would be headed to prison within just a few weeks. Given the groundswell of support for Libby from some of the president's allies, and the anger at Bush for not having already pardoned Libby, it may be that the White House decided to reconsider its previous position under the pressure of the decision.

President Bush seemed to say as much in his statement announcing the commutation.

"I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby's appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision," the statement reads. "... I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

"My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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