Why did Bush commute Libby's sentence?

Because he can, and he can't do much else these days.

By Joan Walsh

Published July 3, 2007 12:30AM (EDT)

I wasn't surprised by President Bush's decision to keep Scooter Libby out of jail. What else was he going to do? I'm not sure why, but I was immediately reminded of a juvenile dirty joke about dogs: Why did Bush commute Libby's sentence? Because he can. He can't do much else: He can't win the war in Iraq, let alone the war on terror. He can't stop his approval ratings from continuing to decline. He can't pass immigration reform. He can't stop Dick Cheney from destroying his presidency, and the world. But he's got the power to do this, with a final kick at U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Valerie Plame. Is anyone really shocked?

It's still appalling, of course. As Tim Grieve points out, even GOP-friendly Judge David Sentelle, the man who gave us Kenneth Starr and voted to overturn Oliver North's Iran-Contra conviction, failed to see merit in Libby's appeal. But Bush is qualified to find Libby's sentence "excessive"? Fitzgerald replied tonight with this simple statement:

"We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative and we do not comment on the exercise of that prerogative.

"We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as 'excessive.' The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.

"Although the President's decision eliminates Mr. Libby's sentence of imprisonment, Mr. Libby remains convicted by a jury of serious felonies, and we will continue to seek to preserve those convictions through the appeals process."

Yes, it's impossible not to notice that Paris Hilton suffered harsher punishment than Libby. We have the ultimate confirmation of what we already knew -- this is a lawless administration. But people who wanted Libby to go to jail to somehow pay for his role in starting the Iraq war were always settling for too little. If Democrats -- and other people who loathe this administration -- are angry about Libby, they should put their energy into stopping the one other thing this president can still do: Send more soldiers to die in Scooter's war. He can't do much, but he's still dangerous.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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