In his first comments on the case since the verdict, Bush told CNN en Español that he has to "respect that conviction" but that he "was sad for a man who had worked in my administration." Bush did not rule out a pardon but implied that it is not imminent. "I'm pretty much going to stay out of it until the course -- the case has finally run its final -- the course it's going to take," he told Univision during an interview before a trip to Latin America that begins today.
Undoubtedly, this will make many Republicans unhappy. Many CQ readers insisted that Bush should act immediately on a pardon, arguing that the prosecution was abusive enough to justify quick action. Some critics noted the Clinton pardon of financier Marc Rich, who never returned to the US to stand trial, as evidence that Bush would be well within precedent to act before the courts finish with their processes. Ironically, Libby represented Rich during the effort to gain a pardon from Bill Clinton. Bush's father didn't wait for Caspar Weinberger to come to trial, either, although that may have had more to do with getting some payback against the special prosecutor who deliberately timed his indictment just prior to the presidential election.
A pardon at this stage would seem like an endorsement of the notion that Libby cannot win an appeal. It plays against Libby in the long run, although I'm certain Libby's team does not agree. If an appellate court reverses Libby's conviction, either by ordering a new trial or by issuing an outright dismissal, he wins in a much more public and substantial manner than a presidential pardon can provide.
Politically, a pardon would create all sorts of problems with Congress, and while that bothers some people, it's simply a political truth. At the moment, Bush is using all of his meager political capital to keep the Iraq War from getting defunded, and at the moment, he's succeeding. If he pardoned Libby at this point, while passions are running hottest about the conviction, he risks splintering his own coalition at a critical time. Libby won't even get sentenced for another three months. and he likely will not go to prison while his appeals are being heard.Bush is keeping his options open, and it's the smart thing.