A balance best maintained

President Bush says he won’t rule out a pardon for Scooter Libby. “As to the future,” Bush declared, “I rule nothing in or nothing out.”
The president’s statement at the time he commuted Libby’s sentence suggested that his decision reflected a careful balancing of competing considerations militating in favor of leaving the sentence in place or, on the other hand, pardoning Libby. However, nothing in that statement conclusively rules out a pardon, and Bush is now on the record as not having ruled one out.
The case for a pardon is essentially the same as the case for eliminating jail time entirely. Although the president cited the excessive nature of the sentence as a key factor in commuting the sentence, it’s difficult to argue that a sentence involving some jail time would have been excessive under the sentencing guidelines. To justify eliminating all jail time, one would have to rely on such factors as LIbby’s public service and the strange circumstances of the case in which his offense occurred.
If Libby’s conviction stands, these same considerations can be cited in favor of a pardon. Whether they carry enough force to justify that much leniency in a case involving a conviction for something as serious as perjury is a judgment call, and one the president gets to make. In my judgment, the president struck the right balance when he commuted Libby’s sentence and should take no further action.


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