Prospective Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson and a few others on the extreme fringe of the lawless right have complained that George Bush was insufficiently generous to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby when the president commuted the 30-month prison sentence of the convicted felon who had served as his counselor and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.

Not to worry.

Bush says he may have more favors in the works for Libby, whose deep involvement in the plotting to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson by outing his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA operative continues to make him a man who could shed a good deal of light on the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush-Cheney White House.

The president confirmed Tuesday, one day after he commuted the sentence, that he remains open to granting a full pardon to Libby.

After defending the commutation by saying, "I took this decision very seriously. I stand by it," Bush was asked by reporters whether a pardon might yet be coming Libby’s way.

"As to the future," the president replied, "I rule nothing in or nothing out."

Similarly, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "I’m not going to close a door on a pardon."

Libby needs a full pardon if he wants to avoid paying a $250,000 federal fine and serving probation. Additionally, while his sentence has been commuted, Libby remains a convicted felon. As such, he will almost certainly lose his license to continue practicing law — at least during a lengthy period of probation.

A pardon would clear up all those concerns.

Inconveniently for the president, it would also mean that, in addition to spending less time behind bars than a certain celebrity — to quote’s Eli Pariser: "Paris Hilton served more jail time than he will" — Libby could end up facing no penalties whatsoever.

That’s a stretch even for Bush, as Libby is a lawyer who knowingly lied to federal investigators and obstructed justice.

But Libby has leverage. He could start doing something dangerous, like telling the truth. And that’s a prospect that Bush has to take seriously.

So the promise of a pardon remains on the table, for at least so long as does the threat that "Scooter" Libby might start talking.


John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.’"