Earlier today, a Federal Appeals Court denied Scooter Libby’s bid to stay out of jail while his appeal was pending (a request that, even in nonviolent cases, is frequently not granted), but at the end of the day Libby received word that he won’t have to spend a day in jail no matter how the appeal turns out:
President Bush today commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, sparing him the 30-month term to which he was sentenced last month for lying to federal investigators about his role in the White House leak of a CIA officer’s identity.
Bush took the action just hours after a federal appeals court ruled that Libby was not entitled to remain free while he was appealing his conviction on four felonies.
“With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision,” Bush said in a statement issued by the White House early this evening. Although the president said he “respected” the jury’s verdict, he added that he had “concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.”
Bush said he was letting stand a $250,000 fine that also was part of the sentence handed down last month by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who presided over the month-long trial last winter.
In their one-paragraph order earlier in the day, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had denied Libby’s request to remain free while he appealed his conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice.
The judges said that Libby’s appeal did not raise “a substantial question” close enough that it was likely his conviction would be overturned.
The appeals court ruling prompted Bush to abandon the hands-off posture he had adopted towards the criminal proceedings against Libby, a 56-year-old lawyer who was Cheney’s right-hand man and an architect of the administration’s national security policies. As pressure from conservatives to give Libby a reprieve mounted on Bush over the past several months, the White House had, until now, said that it was not appropriate to intervene.
Considering that Libby was, most likely, playing the fall guy for Cheney and others, it seems like a just thing to do. Though I’m sure there will be political consequences for Republicans in 2008.