06/18/2007 04:09 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Novak's Idea: Pardon Libby, Dump Gonzales?

Robert Novak recently wrote an article that is reverberating around the right-wing echo chamber. The key idea is summed up in the final paragraph:

"What can a lame-duck president fighting an unpopular war -- the fate also of Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson in their closing months -- do about this? Not much, but two possibilities are talked about in Republican circles: let Gonzales go, and pardon Libby. That might drop Bush's approval ratings even lower, but it sure would hearten his base."

Now, the fact that the cases of Scooter Libby and Alberto Gonzales have absolutely nothing to do with each other does not faze Novak, as he is looking at the situation purely as political calculation: Libby and Gonzales are both a drag on President Bush politically, therefore if he balanced jettisoning Gonzales (apparently unliked and unsupported by true-blue conservatives) with pardoning Libby (apparently beloved by all true-blue conservatives), he could please his base without enraging Democrats too much. Bush would be tossing Democrats a bone (dumping Gonzales), and the people who would be annoyed with Bush if he pardoned Libby already don't like him, so he doesn't have much to lose with them anyway.

This idea was on the lips of many conservative pundits making the Sunday morning talk show circuit yesterday. Which shows two things, if we read between the lines a bit. The first is that Gonzales really doesn't have anyone left in his corner except President Bush. If even the rabid right isn't even bothering to support him anymore, then Gonzales is truly down to a constituency of one: George W. Bush. The second thing worth noting is that the punditocracy has now accepted Bush's dismal under-30 poll numbers as fact. They even have a cutesy term for it: he's "below freezing" in his poll numbers. (Get it? Less than 32 degrees? Well, I warned you it was cutesy.)

One interesting possibility was raised on one of the Sunday chat-fests, the fact that the pardon power is pretty much absolute, and it doesn't just have one option -- Bush could also commute Libby's sentence, or (the most likely option) he could grant Libby a respite (postponement) of his sentence until all appeals are concluded. If Scooter didn't have to go to jail until his appeals run out, then Bush could go back to his original plan of pardoning Scooter on Christmas, 2008 -- after the elections are over.

My personal opinion is that (1) Bush isn't going to fire Gonzales, because he's terrified of trying to get a replacement through the Senate confirmation process, and therefore he's happy to have a broken and ineffectual Justice Department for the remainder of his term; and (2) I don't think he's going to pardon Libby. I think a respite or even a commutation might indeed be in the cards, but not an actual pardon. As I've stated before, I do think it's going to be an agonizing political calculation for the White House, though. I could be wrong, especially about that second one, but that's the way I see it.

My question to all of you, though, is how would the Democratic leadership react to such a Faustian bargain if offered? If Bush called up Pelosi at 11:30 at night and asked her how congressional Democrats would respond to his immediate firing of Gonzales, while also quietly pardoning Libby, what would she say to him? What should she say to him? What would the Democratic base think of such a deal?


Visit Chris' blog at