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Libby judge questions Bush commutation as Judiciary Committee prepares hearings
Michael Roston
Published: Wednesday July 4, 2007
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The House Judiciary Committee plans hearings next week into President George W. Bush's decision to commute the sentence of convicted former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby. They are likely to focus their inquiry into whether Bush's commuting of a jail sentence that had not yet been served was appropriate after the key judge in the Libby case questioned the President's act.

Federal District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to 30 months in jail for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in the investigation of the outing of Plame, raised concerns about the President's commutation of Libby in a Tuesday filing. He suggested that the commutation cannot be used without Libby first serving time in jail.

"It has been brought to the Court's attention that the United States Probation Office for the District Court of the District of Columbia intends to contact [Scooter Libby] imminently to require him to begin his term of supervised release. Strictly construed, the statute authorizing the imposition of supervised release indicates that such release should occur only after the defendant has already served a term of imprisonment," Walton wrote in the filing, which was posted at the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog on Tuesday.

He added, "[Section 3583, the law in question] does not appear to contemplate a situation in which a defendant may be placed under supervised release without first completing a term of incarceration."

Tony Snow was asked a related question in a Tuesday morning press conference. He said the president was ruling out any jail time for Libby.

"He thought that any jail time was excessive. And therefore, he did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail," the White House Press Secretary stated, after a reporter pointed out that "Normally, somebody at least serves a day in jail, a week in jail, a month in jail," before a commutation is granted.

In a statement to RAW STORY Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the decision to commute Libby's sentence required congressional oversight.

"In light of yesterday's announcement by the President that he was commuting the prison sentence for Scooter Libby, it is imperative that Congress look into presidential authority to grant clemency, and how such power may be abused," Conyers said in a statement released to RAW STORY Tuesday night. "Taken to its extreme, the use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."

Another Democratic Congress member agreed with the Chairman.

"The President's blatant disregard for the rule of law proves that Democrats must redouble their efforts to hold this administration accountable," Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) told the New York Daily News.'

The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 11, at 10:15 AM. The committee has not yet announced the witnesses who will testify at the hearing.