Today's Papers

Prison Break

All the papers lead with President Bush commuting Scooter Libby’s 30-month prison sentence. Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff won’t have to serve a day in prison but his conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case still stands, which means he has to pay the $250,000 fine and will be on probation for two years. The president made his announcement after a group of judges denied Libby’s request to stay out of prison while he appealed. In a written statement, Bush said he respects “the jury’s verdict” but characterized the prison sentence as “excessive.”

USA Todaynotes up high that Libby never filed a formal request and Bush didn’t discuss the commutation with the Justice Department. In fact, many Justice officials were already on their way out of the office when they got the news on their BlackBerry  phones. “They were floored,” says the New York Times. By all accounts, Bush appears to have come to the decision mostly on his own and consulted few of his close advisers, says the Washington Postin a separate Page One piece. In pursuing the strategy the president may have been trying to avoid the accusation that he had succumbed to political pressure. Both the NYT and WP point out that it’s unclear what kind of role Cheney played in the process. The Wall Street Journal says the decision could affect Republican presidential candidates who may find themselves in the position of having to “defend the commutation for the remainder of the campaign.” The Los Angeles Times notes that while the decision can’t be overturned, “It can be criticized … and Democrats were quick to do so.”

Everyone quotes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that Libby’s conviction “was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence.” And proving that lawmakers can drop pop culture references like the best of them, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois noted that “even Paris Hilton had to go to jail.” Several Democratic presidential candidates joined in and also criticized the decision. For their part, conservatives were mostly pleased, although some expressed disappointment that Bush didn’t issue a full pardon. But, as several note, Bush could still do that at a later date.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald issued a statement disputing Bush’s characterization of the sentence as excessive saying that “an experienced federal judge … imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws.” The Post quotes a law professor who calls the commutation “hypocritical” since Bush’s Justice Department often argues against attempts by judges and lawyers to give lower sentences than those outlined by federal guidelines.

The NYT quotes from Justice Department standards that say “requests for commutation generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence.” But, of course, the president has wide latitude in these matters.

Everyone points out, as was often talked about in the will-he-or-won’t-he days, Bush seems to have come to the conclusion that he didn’t have much to lose by commuting Libby’s sentence. Those who criticize the decision are not fans of the president, so he may have decided that he needed to appeal to the base, especially after their widespread anger over the immigration bill.

Several of the editorial pages weigh in, and they aren’t too happy with the decision. The WP agrees with the president that Libby’s sentence was excessive, “but reducing the sentence to no prison time at all … is not defensible.” The NYT is more critical and says the commutation “only underscored the way this president is tough on crime when it’s committed by common folk.” The WSJ calls Bush’s statement “another profile in non-courage” and says “Libby deserved better from the president whose policies he tried to defend when others were running for cover.”

The NYT, LAT, and WP front the latest in the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow, where a pattern seems to be emerging as authorities are focusing on foreign-born doctors. As many as five of the eight people in custody are either doctors or in medical school, say the WP and NYT.Notably, they’re also from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The investigation has even extended to Australia, where authorities arrested a foreign doctor. The WSJ points out officials are investigating links between this plot and a British terrorist investigation known as “Operation Rhyme,” where there were plans to blow up buildings using limousines.

In a Page One piece, the WP says that officials think the next attack in the United States is likely to follow the same pattern as the failed car bombs, where people with little training, no experience, and scant connection to al-Qaida carry out simultaneous attacks. The Post talks to an analyst who disagrees with the characterization of the attackers as amateurs simply because they couldn’t ignite the bombs, “of all the al-Qaida plots we’ve seen, their sophistication is in their simplicity.”

The NYT fronts, and the rest of the papers go inside with, a U.S. military spokesman accusing Iranian security forces of using Hezbollah as a “proxy” to train Iraqi Shiite militias and added that Iran’s leadership knows about this. The general said Iran’s agents helped plan an attack in January where five U.S. soldiers were killed.

The WSJ fronts word that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working on getting bipartisan support for a plan to withdraw a “significant” number of troops from Iraq, in exchange for a commitment to keep a long-term presence in the country. The main question now is how long the “surge” will last, as there are fears that if a change of strategy isn’t announced soon Congress could force a withdrawal that would create chaos in the region.

The WP and NYT front Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign handing out pink slips as it has failed to turn around its money  problems and only has $2 million in the bank. McCain’s advisers blamed the immigration bill, and noted that the senator might accept public funds for the primary.

Everyone fronts the death of Beverly Sills, the all-American opera singer who became popular even among those who had no interest in the genre. She was 78.

Your Power Point really made me think … Next time your boss chastises you for yawning at another interminable meeting, make sure you defend yourself against charges that you’re bored. The NYT reports that a new study shows yawning regulates brain temperature, and helps the yawner stay alert since “a cooler brain … is a clearer brain.”