The President Hath Spoken

"You may object that it is not a trial at all; you are quite right. For it is only a trial if I recognize it as such." - Franz Kafka (The Trial).

Is anyone surprised that Scooter Libby's 30-month sentence was commuted?

It also shouldn't come as much of a surprise to know that President "things would be easier if I were a dictator" Bush has been downright miserly in using his constitutional pardon power in comparison to all the other presidents of the past century, including his Daddy.

In a little over six years in office, Bush has pardoned only 113 people and has flat out rejected more than 1,000 pardon applications. He's received about 5,000 requests for sentence reductions but has only granted three.

I can understand the reflex to criticize Bush for sparing a top adviser in a case where both the president and the vice president are implicated in the same investigation that led to the charges against said adviser.

Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega ( makes a good point. "The judge imposed a sentence in accordance with the sentencing guidelines; indeed, it was the most lenient sentence available under the applicable guideline range. Yet Bush, with no explanation whatsoever, has arbitrarily deemed the sentence 'excessive' and obliterated it."

And it's hard to argue with the assessment of former CIA intelligence analyst and State Department counter-terrorism expert Larry Johnson. Johnson, who knows Valerie Wilson personally and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, says: "The commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence represents a tacit endorsement of the obstruction of justice perpetrated by the Bush administration as a whole."

Remember how Bush promised to remove any official implicated in the leak of the name of a covert CIA officer? "George Bush walked away from his pledge and allows Karl Rove to continue to hold security clearances. The Libby get-out-of-jail card is another sign that George Bush cares nothing about the law or the security of this nation," Johnson says bluntly.

When Bush was Governor of Texas he was singing a different clemency tune.

"As governor, Bush essentially viewed the clemency power as limited to cases of demonstrable actual innocence," Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas who has represented death-row inmates, told the New York Times.

"The exercise of the commutation power in Libby," Steiker said, "represents a dramatic shift from his attitude toward clemency in Texas, and it is entirely inconsistent with his longstanding, very limited approach."

But I'm glad Libby scooted. He was the fall-guy in the Bush administration's WMD debacle and I'm not a fan of substitute sacrifices. Never mind The Man next to The Man. What about The Man?

The other reason I'm glad Bush commuted Libby's sentence is because of the opportunity it provides.

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (, there's over a million nonviolent drug offenders in jail right now that costs taxpayers about $24 billion dollars a year to incarcerate.

The president's commutation of Libby gives the national media a chance to ask an important question - the same question posed by National Libertarian Party chairman William Redpath: "If President Bush feels that Libby's punishment is too severe for the crime, then why does our judicial system still require prison for some nonviolent crimes where no victim exists?"

And, over at Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog (, we find this prediction from Alan Michaels:

"I do think (the President's statement) will be thrown in the face of every line assistant arguing for a Guidelines sentence in every district court in the country, and I would expect it to carry weight with some judges. I suspect the President's action is very demoralizing to (Assistant U.S. Attorneys) around the country for this reason. These are folks who've backed the President's tough sentencing policy in the face of compelling and heart-rending arguments. Now the President makes the same argument they've been standing up to!"

Defense attorneys and sentencing law reformers take note. The President hath spoken.

Sean Gonsalves, longtime reporter and now assistant news editor for the Cape Cod Times, is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at

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