I have a new story up on the pardon countdown for Scooter Libby. Will it happen? In Libby circles, that’s The Thing That Cannot Be Spoken. “Nobody talks about it, nobody says anything,” one prominent Libby supporter told me. “There’s not much more to say,” says another, “we just kind of wait and watch and hope.”
The president has less than a week left to pardon Libby, whose jail sentence Bush commuted in 2007. (Libby still paid a $250,000 fine.) But even though it’s the president’s power alone to pardon, all eyes are on Vice President Cheney, Libby’s old boss. People who paid close attention to the case are looking for any sort of signal from Cheney that something is up, and they’re getting nothing. “I’ve seen the VP recently, and he doesn’t talk about this stuff — never would,” says the first Libby ally. “But we all assume — ‘we’ meaning people who know the case and who know Scooter — that the VP has interceded with the president and made his pitch. It would be irrational not to assume that.”
That seems likely, but unless you’re Dick Cheney, or George Bush, or White House counsel Fred Fielding, it’s probably not possible to know, because no one in that tightest of inner circles is talking. On January 7, for example, Cheney met with a small group of conservative journalists at the vice president’s residence. Asked whether he was pushing for a pardon for Libby, Cheney replied that he is “a huge fan of Scooter’s,” but “the question of a pardon is — really falls within the president’s purview, and his alone.”
“So you’re not offering any advice?”
“That’s as much as I’m going to say.”
“Do you think Scooter is innocent?”
“I don’t want to discuss the case.”
Then there is the question of what role Libby himself has played in the pardon speculation. It appears the answer is none. We know that he has not gone through the regular pardon channels at the Justice Department; a department spokesman told me that, as of Monday, the Office of the Pardon Attorney had not received a clemency petition from Libby. But Libby’s is precisely the kind of case that the Justice Department’s procedures are not meant to address; for one thing, not enough time has passed since his 2007 conviction for him to qualify. If Libby is pardoned, it will be because George W. Bush has decided to follow the example of his father, who pardoned several former Bush I administration officials after the Iran-Contra affair.
Whether Libby has spoken privately with Cheney is unknown. But this seems to be a case in which all the players feel strongly and say very little. Everybody knows a pardon would be enormously valuable to Libby. It could be that there really isn’t much to discuss.