White House won't intervene 'now' in Libby case
President Bush won't be issuing any pardon for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was sentenced to 30 months prison Tuesday for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators during the CIA leak probe, at least not "now."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters that although Bush "felt terrible" for Libby's family, the president would be sticking to the sidelines for the time being.
"The president said that he felt terrible for the family, especially his wife and his kids," Perino said.
According to Reuters, Perino "noted that the appeals process, which could prove lengthy, was just getting under way."
Perino added, "Given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the president has not intervened so far in any other criminal matter and he is going to decline to do so now."
On CNN, senior Washington correspondent John King suggested that at tonight's Republican presidential debate, viewers can probably expect that the candidates will be asked if they plan to pardon Libby if Bush doesn't.
Vice President Dick Cheney released a statement late Tuesday afternoon which said that he was "deeply saddened by this tragedy," and expressed hope that Libby would eventually prevail through the appeals process.
"I relied on him heavily in my capacity as secretary of defense and as vice president," Cheney's statement said. "The defense has indicated it plans to appeal the conviction in the case. Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man."
Excerpts from Perino's press briefing follow:
Q Any reaction to the sentencing for Scooter Libby?
MS. PERINO: Yes, Dan Bartlett and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten informed the President right after take off -- as you know, that news came in just as we were taxiing -- so they informed the President. The President said that he felt terrible for the family, especially his wife and his kids, and that he wanted to wait until we heard more about the judge's decision.
I don't know if you know that when we took off he had initially announced his decision on the sentencing issue, but then he said the court would break, and then came back. When the court came back, according to reports from the ground, the judge has set up a process for which Scooter Libby and his attorneys can appeal both the judge's decision today, as well as the jury verdict. And given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the President has not intervened so far in this or any other criminal matter, and so he is going to decline to do so now, as well.
Q Is Scooter Libby going to get a pardon?
MS. PERINO: As I said, we're not going to comment, the criminal justice system is still continuing and the judge has set up a process -- I think it's to be announced, the exact schedule later. It would start next week, when they start pursuing those appeals.
Q When do you consider the process over?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think when those appeals are exhausted is when it would be over.
Q And if Scooter Libby says, "I'm not going to appeal"?
MS. PERINO: Well, then we'd have to take that into consideration and I'd have to come back with more reaction.
Q Does the President think at some point it would be appropriate just to speak out about this? The guy has been sentenced. I mean, is he going to run out the clock and wait for all the appeals to be done before the President of the United States speaks about a pretty important matter that was perpetrated by a member of his staff?
MS. PERINO: What I can tell you is how the President reacted today, which is to say that he does feel terrible for them, he thinks they're going through a lot right now, they've been through a lot. But given the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way that the President has handled this for the past year or so, he's not going to intervene.
Q Does he feel sympathy for Scooter Libby?
MS. PERION: Yes, he says he feels terrible for them; he's sorry for the way that -- for all that they're going through and he can --
Q Did he include Scooter Libby in that?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Has justice been served in this case?
MS. PERINO: Brendan, I think that as regards to anyone, any American who has the right to see out a criminal justice procedure, I think that we have to afford him the same rights, just as we would give to anybody else and allow them to exhaust those appeals.
Q Dana, if the appeals process is still going on, on January 20, 2009, will the President continue to not get involved?
MS. PERINO: That's very speculative and hypothetical and I think let's just let that process start next week.
Anything else? Okay.