At first, President Bush's partial commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice looked like a canny move. It appeared to be a split-the-difference decision that left Libby's conviction intact, along with his fine and probation, but appeased supporters of the former vice-presidential aide by sparing him a 30-month prison term.
In the ensuing days, however, the president's act took on overtones of political self-preservation.
Bush characterized Libby's prison sentence as "excessive," but it was within the range recommended by prosecutors and conformed to federal sentencing guidelines. The Justice Department and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald were not consulted, as usually occurs in cases involving pardons or commutations. And commutations, which reflect no judgment that the underlying conviction was improper, are rarely granted before any prison time has been served.
Add the fact that the president has explicitly refused to rule out a pardon at some future date, and Libby is left with both the incentive and the ability to keep quiet about the case that ensnared him - which sprang from an attempt to discredit a critic of the administration's justifications for going to war against Iraq.
In the absence of a pardon, Libby's appeals are still pending - allowing him to avoid testifying before Congress. The possibility of a pardon will keep Libby from saying or writing anything that would embarrass the administration, something he might have done if he felt his former patrons had abandoned him by allowing him to go to prison.
Neutralizing Libby in this fashion shuts down a conduit through which further revelations about the pre-war period, offered voluntarily or under oath, might have flowed. It's not just Libby who has avoided accountability.
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....And The Truth Shall Set Us Free