A deft political operator, our president is not. This should come as no surprise to anyone by now, on either side of the aisle--President Bush will be remembered as much for his tone-deaf political pratfalls (see Michael Brown, Harriet Miers, Donald Rumsfeld, Dubai Ports, immigration, etc.) as for his verbal ones.
His decision to commute Scooter Libby's prison sentence falls squarely into this pattern.
Let's get this out of the way straight off: It should also be clear to all involved that Libby was not the fish Democrats were looking to fry. The situation is, in many ways, similar to the Georgia Thompson scenario here in Wisconsin; just as the Thompson trial was seen as an indictment of the Doyle administration, so Libby's was seen as the Bush administration on trial.
Let's also get this out of the way: Libby was convicted of perjury by a jury of his peers (albeit with substantial problems--more than sufficient grounds for appeal, and I do think that Libby's conviction will eventually be overturned, as Thompson's was). His punishment, while far closer to the maximum allowable than the minimum (and twice as harsh as the prosecution wanted--though even what the prosecution wanted would have put him in prison for well over a year) was within prescribed sentencing guidelines. The sentencing judge was acting well within the letter of the law once Libby had been convicted.
If there was a justification for Bush to get involved here, it would be that the case should never have gone to trial in the first place--that the special prosecutor, having discovered early on the source of the leak which prompted his appointment in the first place (and having determined that the leaker had not committed a crime in doing so) proceeded to go on a fishing expedition--a witch hunt, in essence--looking for someone--anyone--to haul before a jury.
The thing is, those aren't grounds for commuting Libby's sentence. Those are grounds for a full pardon.
By doing anything in this case, Bush draws the wrath of the Democrats and their media allies. But by allowing the conviction to stand, Bush implicitly concedes that Libby should have been prosecuted--and that the administration, by proxy, is guilty of whatever nefarious schemings Joseph and Valerie Wilson are claiming this week.
In typical ham-fisted fashion, Bush has garnered the worst of both worlds--for himself, for his administration, and for his party.