WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush has the constitutional power to pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby, but will he do it?
Democrats were immediately suspicious that he would, the White House was careful not to rule it out, and Intrade, an online prediction exchange on issues from politics to weather, opened a futures market on whether it would happen.
“President Bush should now pledge that he will not pardon Scooter Libby,” scolded Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy shortly after Libby was convicted on Tuesday of obstructing justice and lying to investigators.
Libby faces a maximum of 25 years in prison.
Democrats have cause for suspicion. One of their own, President Bill Clinton, continues to receive flak for a pardon he handed out on his last day in office in 2001, when he granted then-fugitive Marc Rich immunity from prosecution on tax evasion charges.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, pressed on the possibility of a Libby pardon, talked all around the subject but never ruled it out.
“I don’t think that speculating on a wildly hypothetical situation at this time is appropriate,” she told reporters.
She added: “There is a process in place for all Americans if they want to receive a pardon from a president... And I‘m aware of no such requests.”
Article 2 of the Constitution says the president “shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
Bush, who will leave office in January 2009, has granted 113 pardons so far in his two terms, mostly involving minor lawbreakers, including a convicted moonshiner.
There was some Republican support for pardoning Libby.
“President Bush should have pardoned Libby last Christmas Eve and saved the country this spectacle of a trial,” said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist.
The current president’s father, then-President George H.W. Bush, drew fire for pardoning former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the Iran-contra, arms-for-hostages scandal that rocked the Reagan White House.
Also pardoned by the first Bush president over the same scandal: Elliott Abrams, currently the Middle East expert on the White House National Security Council.
Libby might fit in the same mold as Weinberger, said presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution.
He said Libby’s defenders could present the former Cheney aide as “a fall guy” or victim of a miscarriage of justice. His conviction stemmed from a probe into who blew the cover of CIA analyst Valerie Plame the wife of a critic of the administration over the Iraq war, former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Wilson urged Bush not to pardon Libby.
“I would hope that the president, because this is something where he has a distinct conflict of interest ... that he would recuse himself and stay out of this matter,” Wilson said in an interview on National Public Radio.
If Bush is to risk angering the public by pardoning Libby, it will be important for his supporters to make the case for why it is needed, said Hess.
“You have to build a case for Libby before you put the president on the line,” he said.