Snow: "Not going to close the door on a pardon"

The White House refuses to say whether Bush even thinks Libby committed a crime.

By Tim Grieve

Published July 3, 2007 4:11PM (EDT)

At this morning's White House press briefing, Tony Snow refused to rule out the possibility of a full pardon for Scooter Libby. He refused to say whether George W. Bush believes that Libby committed a crime. He said that, even though the president has commuted Libby's sentence, the White House can't discuss other aspects of the outing of Valerie Plame, including Karl Rove's role in it, because the "legal process" is still not over. And then he complained that "passions" were "running high in the press room today."

Asked whether Bush has left "open the door" for a pardon down the road, Snow said that the president "has done what he thinks is appropriate." "The reason I will say I'm not going to close the door on a pardon is simply this: that Scooter Libby may petition for one. But the president has done what he thinks is appropriate to resolve this case." Does that mean that Bush wouldn't do anything more? "I don't want to read the president's mind," Snow said. "But on the other hand, I do not want to create expectations that somehow there will be more."

Reporter: Does the president think that Scooter did in fact lie, that a member of the White House staff was in fact guilty of a crime?

Snow: What he believes is that he was convicted of a jury of his peers. The president was not sitting in as a fact witness on a very long case. . . .

At the same time that Snow was pleading ignorance on Bush's part, he was using Bush's knowledge of the case to defend the president's decision to commute Libby's sentence without consulting with the Justice Department first, as DOJ guidelines on clemency orders require.

"Often what has evolved in taking a look at old cases is to go back to the prosecutors who originally did it, have them go back to their files, consult the case, and look at it in that direction," Snow explained. "Those are conditions that do not apply in this case, and therefore you don't have the necessity of going back and saying, 'Will you tell us what went on?' I mean, we're pretty well aware of what's been going on and the issues in the case . . . . And knowing the facts are well known, you do not need to do prior consultations in the way that you do in the past to try to get those facts available. . . . This is not something, again, where you have to go back and consult members of the Justice Department about what the facts of the case are or the circumstances surrounding it."

Snow said that Bush made his decision to commute Libby's sentence "after long consideration." Although the Washington Post reported this morning that Bush didn't consult with the Justice Department about the decision to commute Libby's sentence, Snow said that the president did spend "weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed." Was Dick Cheney one of those senior officials? "I -- you know, I'm sure that the vice president may have expressed an opinion," Snow said. Then he caught himself: "The fact is, the president understands the -- he may have recused himself. I honestly don't know."

Reporter: Did [Cheney] ask for the president president to spare his friend?

Snow: We never, as you know, talk about internal deliberations. Nice try. I mean, this is exactly what we're talking about right now before the House and Senate. And we are not going to characterize specifically any kind of advice or plea that somebody may make.

Reporter: Doesn't the public deserve to know if the vice president asked the president to use this constitutional authority to spare his former aide and longtime friend from prison?

Snow: Well, let me put it this way: The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone, and to do that is to misconstrue the nature of the deliberations. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to maintain the faith in the jury system, and he did that by keeping intact the conviction and some of the punishments. And at the same time he thought it was important to put together what he thought was a just punishment in this case, which is what he did. But to think of this as the bestowal of a favor is simply utterly to misconstrue the nature...

Reporter: [People might think] it was the bestowal of a favor when there are dozens of other people who would probably make the same case that their sentences were too heavy and should have been commuted.

Snow: Well, I'm not sure that there are dozens of others who are -- every individual -- look it's (inaudible) -- well, again, there are many people who may have made cases in various junctures, but they're all different. The president looked at this one on its merits. . . .

Reporter: So politics did not play into this decision at all?

Snow: That is correct.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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