The commutation is an outrage.
Bush's rationale might have had some merit had Libby been convicted solely of perjury. If that were the case, one might argue that he was convicted of a "process crime" and there should be leniency since there was no prosecution under the Espionage Act or the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982.
But that isn't what happened. In addition to perjury, Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice. That was the most important charge against him. Patrick Fitzgerald's summation to the jury and his sentencing recommendation made it clear that Libby's obstruction precluded him from ever determining whether his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney had broken the law and what role the White House had played in outing Plame. "There is a cloud over the vice president," Fitzgerald said in his closing argument. "That cloud is there because the defendant obstructed justice."
Beyond that, while some think commuting the sentence more onerous than a pardon would have been, I believe it gives Libby important cover in the civil suit that Valerie Plame has filed against him and other White House officials involved in disclosing her identity and her role at the CIA. Since Libby wasn't pardoned, his appeal of the conviction is likely to continue and until it is concluded, he can plead the Fifth Amendment and not testify in the Plame's civil trial against him.
In sum, the commutation of Libby's sentence is a cover-up, pure and simple. The trial judge's sentence may have exceeded federal guidelines by a few months. But Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence totally ignores those guidelines. If Libby deserves a pardon, shouldn't we revisit other sentences that exceed federal guidelines?
Norman Pearlstine is the author of OFF THE RECORD: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources. He was editor in chief of Time Inc. from 1995 through 2005 and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, 1983-1991.