With the jury in the Scooter Libby case stretching past its ninth day of deliberations, speculation is already intensifying about the impact of a jury verdict--whether guilty or not guilty. Conviction on any single felony count in the indictment assuredly means some term of incarceration under the sentencing guidelines now only advisory but still almost slavishly followed by federal judges and prosecutors. Of course, there could be an appeal from any conviction based on any number of alleged "errors" at trial; and the appeals process itself, up to and including certiorari to the US Supreme Court, could stretch on for another year and a half or more. The $64,000 dollar question on everybody's mind is whether President Bush will pardon Libby after the 2008 election, following a now well worn precedent invoked by Presidents George Bush (Iran Contra) and Bill Clinton (Whitewater) to brandish the pardon power to erase convictions in high profile political cases thought to involve some element of prosecutorial overzealousness. The presidential pardon power, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, is unviewable and unfettered and can be granted by the President for any reason whatsoever. Despite the uproar over President Clinton's grant of pardons to Marc Rich (the fugitive financier) and others, some without the customary review by professionals in the Department of Justice pardon attorney's office, there is nothing that Congress or anyone else could do to block President Bush's conferral of a post conviction pardon on Scooter Libby.
And what if the jury acquits on all counts? That is the end of the matter and no further proceedings are likely, despite speculation that independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will seek to explore Vice President Cheney's role in the Valerie Plame matter as revealed in the evidence adduced at trial from administration and media witnesses. If we've learned one thing about Patrick Fitzgerald it is that while he has been dogged and focused in his pursuit of the Libby case, he has not exhibited the excessive and disproportionate modus operandi of previous independent counsels (like Lawrence Walsh and Ken Starr), as attested to by his decision to investigate, but decline prosecution, of Karl Rove. Indeed, Fitzgerald has already fully investigated Cheney's role in the Plame matter and none of the "revelations" at trial about the inner workings of the Vice President's office was news to him. Whatever happens in the Libby case, it is expected in Washington lawyer circles to be the closing legal chapter in the criminal aspect of the Plame affair.