George Bush took immediate action after Scooter Libby lost his appeal to maintain bail while attempting to overturn his convictions on perjury and obstruction of justice. He commuted Libby's prison sentence, while leaving his fine and his probation in place. The question now will be whether that satisfies Libby's supporters, and how angry it will make his detractors:
President Bush has commuted the prison term of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, facing 30 months in prison after a federal court convicted him of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators. ...
In a written statement issued hours after that ruling, Bush called the sentence "excessive." But he also rejected calls for a pardon for Libby.
"The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting," Bush said.
But he said Libby was given "a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury."
Bush could have pardoned Libby, but clearly did not want to go so far in rejecting the decision of the jury. He wanted to send the message that government officials have to hew to high standards, while attempting a humane gesture for a man who has led an exemplary life of public service, at least to the point where he committed perjury and obstruction of justice. In opting for commutation, Bush has attempted a Solomonic decision to split the baby.
Unfortunately, like Solomon, Bush will probably find neither side satisfied. Critics of the administration and Plame-conspiracy activists want a scalp, and thought they'd enjoy the sight of Libby walking into Club Fed for a spell. Conservatives who believed that the entire investigation was bogus from the start want Libby cleared altogether. The $250,000 fine will stick their craw most especially. Don't expect conservatives to let up on a full pardon, which will allow Libby to clear the felonies from his record, until Bush leaves office.
If Bush wanted to take any action -- and I would have advised against it -- this is as far as he should go. It allows Libby to remain free while he pursues his appeal, but it makes it clear that the White House won't undo convictions for official misconduct. It strikes a balance that few will appreciate now, but later will accept as wise, as far as it goes. If Libby has a good case for reversal, let the courts make that decision.
UPDATE: Rudy approves, although rather tersely:
"After evaluating the facts, the President came to a reasonable decision and I believe the decision was correct."
Recall that Rudy got rather demonstrative in the first debate where the subject of Libby arose.