- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday asked President Bush to allow top White House aides to explain why the president commuted the prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

In requesting Mr. Bush to “waive executive privilege and provide the relevant documents and testimony” of aides involved in the decision to commute Libby’s sentence, Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, called the decision “surprising.”

“Mr. Libby was convicted of serious crimes and sentenced by a fair and well-respected federal judge who termed the evidence of Mr. Libby’s guilt overwhelming,” Mr. Conyers said in a letter.

“It was surprising to learn that you had deemed Mr. Libby’s sentence ‘excessive’ even before any of his appeals had run.”

Mr. Bush commuted the 30-month prison sentence of Libby on July 2, just hours after a federal appeals court panel said the former White House aide could not remain free on bond pending an appeal.

The president waived all prison time but left intact the $250,000 fine and two years of probation ordered by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Libby’s conviction on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and grand jury in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Office of Legal Counsel had not completed its review of Mr. Conyers’ letter, so he could not comment fully on it. But he said after an initial reading that Mr. Conyers appeared to acknowledge the president’s executive privilege rights and clemency authority.

“Those two things did come jumping out,” he said. “They seemed to concede what we think are the principal elements, which is that the president does have the clemency power, and he also has executive privilege that covers the conversations and the deliberations that go behind communications with the president.”

Mr. Conyers said his committee sought a hearing to “explore the grave questions that arise when the presidential clemency power is used to erase criminal penalties for high-ranking executive branch employees whose offenses relate to their work for the president.”

He said that although the use of clemency power is a presidential prerogative, the commutation of Libby’s sentence had proved “highly controversial” and raised concerns that it removed any incentive for Libby to provide information about the leak and the role the president and vice president may have played.

Mr. Conyers said that when President Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich in 2001, he waived executive privilege to allow White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, former White House Counsel Beth Nolan and a top adviser, Bruce Lindsay, to testify before the House Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.

He also said that President Ford testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 about his pardon of former President Richard M. Nixon.

“On what basis did you conclude that Mr. Libby’s apparently ordinary sentence was excessive?” Mr. Conyers wrote, also asking whether any assurances had been given to Libby before or after his testimony that he would be protected from jail time through clemency.

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