Excerpts from a July 3 press briefing by White House spokesman Tony Snow:
Q: Is the President’s decision to commute the sentence of Scooter Libby — is that the final word in this case, or does he leave the door open for a pardon later?
MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way. The President thinks that he has dealt with the situation properly. There is always a possibility, or there’s an avenue open for anybody to petition for consideration of a pardon. As far as we know, that’s not been done; we don’t know if it’s contemplated by Scooter Libby or his defense team. But this is — the President has put together what he thinks is the proper approach and the proper way of dealing with this case.
Q: Tony, did the Vice President weigh in?
MR. SNOW: My guess is that — I don’t have direct knowledge, Ed. But on the other hand, the President did consult with most senior officials and I’m sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views.
Q: Why didn’t he consult with Justice Department officials? Officials in his own Justice Department say normally someone would at least serve some jail time before a sentence is actually commuted. Why didn’t he consult with his own Justice Department?
MR. SNOW: Well, a couple of things. First, quite often when you’re dealing with sentences of this sort, they also have to deal with, as you point out, sentences that are ongoing or sometimes cases that have gotten a bit stale and people are trying to refresh their memories about the particulars of the case. The same would be true of the prosecutor, because they’re quite often consulted for the same reason. Here you have a case that’s still ongoing in the court system. It’s not like people’s memories are fuzzy about the details or the circumstances. The Attorney General, himself, was recused, as you know, in this case.
But the answer, Ed, is that it is certainly — in some cases, people do such consultations. In this case — and they do it for the reasons I’ve just cited. These tend to be, can you go back and fill me in on what happened in that case. If you take a look at the rash of pardons and commutations at the end of the Clinton era, a lot of that was people running around trying to find paperwork to figure out what the facts were. So let me just —
Q: Well, why no jail time, though?
MR. SNOW: I’m sorry, what?
Q: The jail time issue — normally, somebody at least serves a day in jail, a week in jail, a month in jail.
MR. SNOW: Because the President thought the jail time, in fact, was inappropriate, and therefore, he decided to —
Q: I thought he said the jail time was excessive, the sentence was excessive. He didn’t say it was inappropriate.
MR. SNOW: Right. No, he said it was excessive, and he thought that any jail time was excessive. And therefore, he did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail.
Keep in mind that Scooter Libby has been convicted of a felony; that remains the same. He has a $250,000 fine to pay; that remains the same. He’s got two years of probation; that remains the same. And a felony conviction has profound impacts on his ability to earn a living as a lawyer because he’s not going to be able to practice law. So this is hardly a slap on the wrist, in terms of penalty. It is a very severe penalty.
But the President also believes, for those who were arguing on behalf of a pardon, that you need to respect the jury system. Scooter Libby was tried before a jury of his peers. And it is important to make clear our faith in what really is a pillar of the American justice system, which is everybody’s right to be tried before a jury of the peers.
Q: Tony, is the President saying —
Q: So does that mean —
MR. SNOW: Wait, one at a time, one at a time.
Q: So you’re not closing the door, then, on a pardon.
MR. SNOW: Look, I think — the President has done what he thinks is appropriate. The reason I will say I’m not going to close a door on a pardon is simply this, that Scooter Libby may petition for one. But the President has done what he thinks is appropriate to resolve this case.
Q: You’re saying that he thinks he’s done what is enough?
MR. SNOW: He thinks he’s done what’s appropriate.
Q: And that would be it, that he wouldn’t do any more?
MR. SNOW: I don’t want to read the President’s mind, but on the other hand, I do not want to create expectations that somehow there will be more.
Q: Tony, does the President think that Scooter Libby did, in fact, lie; that a member of the White House staff was, in fact, guilty of these crimes?
MR. SNOW: What he believes is that he was convicted of a jury of his peers. The President was not sitting in as a fact witness on a very long case, and he does think that it’s important to respect what the jury concluded, because the jury really is the group that counts here.
Q: Why not respect what the judge said, then?
MR. SNOW: Well, keep in mind that there is still — he does respect what the judge said, but he also respects what — I think if you took a look at the trial record, at what the parole commission recommended, that what the parole commission recommended was highly consistent with what the President thought was an appropriate punishment here.
Q: Well, no, they talked about 16-plus months.
MR. SNOW: No, that is — there’s a range of — what you’re taking a look — this gets very complicated. You have obstruction of justice, and then you have mitigating factors that bumps it down. And the bump down gets you, according, again, to the parole commission, to an area where it would be appropriate, it would be within acceptable guidelines to have such things as home detention or probation. Probation is something that is going to be required in this case.
Q: Tony, it’s my understanding that this administration has advocated allowing judges the discretion to sentence within guidelines, and that this sentence was, in fact, within customary guidelines. So how does the President square that view with his decision to commute the sentence?
MR. SNOW: Look, first, he thinks that — I would suggest you go back and read some of the trial pleadings, because there is real controversy over what the proper guidelines are. What you’re referring to are guidelines under the Espionage Act, which was never brought up as a possible violation by Mr. Libby or anybody there. But I don’t want to get into the business of trying to — I know you’re trying to get into the business of having an abstruse legal argument with Patrick Fitzgerald; not going to do it. I will simply tell you that the President, after long consideration, weeks and weeks of consideration, came to the conclusion that 30 months in jail was excessive, and that he is comfortable with the punishment, which is still quite severe, of $250,000, a felony conviction, and two years of probation.
Q: And just as a follow-up, can you shed any light on the President’s process of deliberations, how he went about thinking about this decision, which you said he considered over weeks and weeks?
MR. SNOW: Only to a very trivial extent, because, as you know, there are — there’s a very important debate going on in Washington about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of deliberations within a White House. I will leave it at this: The President spent weeks and weeks consulting with senior members of this White House about the proper way to proceed, and they looked at a whole lot of options, and they spent a lot of time talking through the options and doing some very detailed legal analysis.
Q: Did he consult with anyone outside the White House?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to — I’m not going to characterize beyond that.