Timing of Bush's commuting of Libby's prison sentence surprising, but not unexpected, political scientist says

Thursday, July 5, 2007

On July 2, President Bush announced that he was commuting the 30-month prison sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents investigating the 2003 exposure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Bush's order keeps Libby's conviction on his record, but he called the prison sentence "excessive" and suggested that Libby will pay a big enough price for his conviction.

A University of North Texas assistant professor of political science says the idea of Bush commuting Libby's sentence has been suggested by supporters of the president since Libby was sentenced June 5, even through general political support for the move hasn't been high. However, Dr. Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, who teaches a course on the presidency and has conducted research on public opinion about U.S. presidents, says he was surprised that Bush decided to commute the sentence less than a month after it was handed down.

"Because of the potential political fallout, typically presidents wait until the end of a term to issue pardons or commutations. It's a surprise that it's happening now, but not unexpected. The power of a president to do this is absolute, and there's nothing that Congress can do about it," he says.

If the only costs of such a decision are political, Eshbaugh-Soha says, " the president's poll numbers can't go much further down."

"He just lost his last major legislative initiative with the defeat of the immigration reform efforts, and there is not much left to lose," he says.

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