The politics of pardons

Will George W. Bush pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

Good question and one that has both the right and left buzzing. Conservatives are not just requesting, but demanding that Bush pardon the former Vice Presidential chief of staff sooner than later but Bush appears in no hurry to let Libby off the hook for his conviction of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.

And while Democrats argue publicly against a pardon they hope privately Bush will do so because they feel it will be an issue to use against Republicans.

Writes Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times:

President Bush has pardoned 113 people during his presidency, including a Tennessee bootlegger and a Mississippi odometer cheat.

But none has drawn the public scrutiny, nor posed the same political challenge, as the candidate that many conservatives hope will be Bush presidential pardon No. 114: I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of lying to investigators in the C.I.A. leak case and sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in prison.

A pardon for Mr. Libby would attract more painful attention to a case from which Mr. Bush had managed to keep his distance for more than three years, a case inextricably linked to the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and an administration effort to discredit a critic that ultimately exposed a C.I.A. officer. The Democrats who control Congress would be none too pleased, either.

A decision not to pardon Mr. Libby would further alienate members of Mr. Bush’s traditional base of support in the conservative movement, a group already angry about his proposed immigration policy, his administration’s spending and his approach to Iran.

So far, Mr. Bush seems to be willing to take that chance, saying he will not intervene until Mr. Libby’s legal team has exhausted its avenues of appeal.

Already, major conservative and neoconservative organizations, magazines and Web sites are expressing vexation that Mr. Bush has not granted clemency to Mr. Libby, who they say was unfairly railroaded for an initial leak that has now been traced to Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state.