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It’s no secret what former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. would like this holiday season: a neatly wrapped presidential pardon. Libby faces up to 30 years in jail on charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements during the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and jury selection for the trial is set to begin Jan. 16. A pardon before the trial, of course, could save the White House the messiness of having Vice President Dick Cheney or presidential aide Karl Rove called to the stand to testify about the administration’s behind-the-scenes efforts to sell the invasion of Iraq. But short-circuiting the judicial process for a favored deputy would no doubt create a political firestorm. So far, the White House has been mum on the subject. On “Meet the Press” in September, Cheney declined to comment on whether Libby should be granted a pardon. (The White House did not return calls.) The vast majority of presidential pardons have been granted after a review through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney — which typically only reviews cases long after defendants have been tried and convicted. But the president isn’t constitutionally bound to consult the Justice Department, or even wait until a defendant has been convicted: Witness President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor, President Richard Nixon or President George H.W. Bush’s pardon of former defense secretary and Iran-Contra figure Caspar Weinberger. Still, getting a recommendation can help give the president some cover. “It’s very useful for the president to have the counsel of the attorney general in pardon matters,” says Margaret Love, the Justice Department’s former pardon attorney. In the tangled Libby matter, that advice-giving role may fall to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, since Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has himself testified before the grand jury in the case. But top Justice officials will no doubt be wary of the experience of former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who saw his reputation tarnished for famously declaring himself “neutral, leaning towards favorable” in the controversial pardon of fugitive multimillionaire Marc Rich in the final hours of the Clinton administration.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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