It’s not as though the President pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He commuted Libby’s sentence to eliminate the jail time. The conviction remains on Libby’s criminal record — he will never overtly work in politics again — and he must pay a quarter-million dollar fine. So I think the headline on CNN (“Scooter Skates”) is not quite accurate.
More to the point, the central tenet, the unifying theme, indeed sometimes it seems the raison d’etre, of this Administration can be summed up in a single word: “loyalty.” You get into the Administration by being loyal to the people above you; you get ahead by making them look good. For the most part, loyalty flows in one direction — upward — but in Libby’s case, there has to be some give-back. After all, it seems that everything Libby did, was done at the at-least tacit instigation of the Vice President.
So this seems like about the only move possible for Bush. He can’t pardon Libby completely, because then it just looks like he’s providing cover for his cronies. But he can’t let the man rot, either, because then Scooter will start singing a song that will damage an already-weak Presidency. So, keep the guy out of prison, and leave some measure of criminal punishment in place.
Prison isn’t going to do much for Libby anyway. Do we send people to prison to a) rehabilitate them and make them better people; b) get them off the streets so they can’t commit any more crimes; c) serve as an example for others so they won’t commit similar crimes, or d) wreak the vengeance of society upon them for their transgressions? None of “a” through “d” really apply to Scooter or someone in his position. And as I suggested with Mike Nifong, the combination of public humiliation, permanent deprivation of one’s livelihood, and significant monetary liability is a pretty substantial punishment for one’s misdeeds without throwing imprisonment into the mix. (UPDATE: I was just reminded that Scooter is also an attorney, and he will likely be disbarred for his perjury conviction, too.)
So was this the right decision for President Bush to make with regards to Scooter Libby? Well, no, but it was probably the least bad decision he could have made. He probably should have done it Friday afternoon, though, so that the story would have hit the weekend news cycles after a holiday, instead of doing it now on a Monday while people are still paying attention. That’s just another example of how the Bush Administration is not performing at an optimal level of competence.