Scooter Libby walks

Thanks to President Bush, Lewis "Scooter" Libby will spend less time in jail for lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice than former New York Times reporter Judith Miller did for refusing to reveal the sources she used in investigating the story about who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Miller, who never actually wrote a story about the affair, spent 90 days in jail before revealing her sources, which included Libby. Libby, facing 30 months behind bars, had his sentence commuted by Bush on Monday.

Libby, former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, still faces a $250,000 fine, two years probation and loss of his license to practice law. But Bush, Tuesday, said he would not rule out an eventual pardon of Libby, which would wipe the slate clean.

President Bush, in explaining his decision, said he had concluded that Libby's sentence was "excessive." Yet numerous examples of sentences for other perjurers indicate that 30 months is more the norm than the exception.

By commuting Libby's sentence -- and, in all likelihood, pardoning him before leaving office -- Bush has sent the message that officials within his administration can break the law with impunity. Furthermore, it indicates that he does not regard perjury, obstructing justice and lying to the FBI and a grand jury as serious crimes -- at least when committed by a loyal White House foot soldier.

One could argue that the world will not be made safer by keeping Scooter Libby behind bars. It also is apparent that he was the only one to take the rap for the orchestrated effort by others in the White House to discredit former ambassador Joe Wilson, which resulted in the public outing of his wife, a covert CIA operative.

Still, the felonies of which Libby was convicted are serious. The integrity of the legal system depends on honest testimony under oath, and the overwhelming evidence at the trial showed that Libby had lied.

The president, with his approval ratings in the low 30s, had little to lose by commuting Libby's sentence. But he will have to suffer the ire of Democrats who will try to make political hay out of this and that of conservatives who think he should have pardoned Libby outright.

The average voter may not care much now and even less a few months from now about Libby's fate. Then again, the commutation may add to the growing perception that this administration feels it can ignore the law when it stands in the way of political objectives or happens to entangle a political crony.


President Bush showed his disregard for the law in commuting Libby's sentence