In commuting the sentence of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush sent the message that perjury and obstruction of justice in the service of the president of the United States are not serious crimes.
Never mind the president's words about our system of justice relying on "people telling the truth" -- and that those who don't "must be held accountable." His bottom-line action speaks louder than all the platitudes and caveats in the president's statement.
Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted by a jury for his part in trying to stymie an investigation into the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity. The sentencing judge seemed determined to see that the vice president's former chief of staff serve time for his felony convictions.
Now, thanks to Bush's intervention, Libby will not spend a day behind bars.
The president's rationalization that Libby has suffered immensely with the damage to his reputation, the hefty fines -- and the resulting strain on his wife and children -- could be said of just about anyone with a previously clean record who is about to enter a federal prison.
But Bush has not lifted a finger on behalf of obstructers of justice who don't happen to work in the White House.
Perhaps the underlying message here is that Bush feels his administration has suffered enough for its manipulation of intelligence before the Iraq war and its attempts to chill voices of dissent.
The Libby trial cast a harsh light on the maneuvering at the highest levels of the White House against war critic Joseph Wilson, but the defense ultimately spared Vice President Dick Cheney from having to testify. The special prosecutor observed that Libby's evasiveness cast "a cloud" over the vice president.
One juror called Libby "the fall guy" for his boss and White House political guru Karl Rove.
The cloud remains.
The fall guy just received a far softer landing than he deserved.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle