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Scooter Libby Felony Conviction Fallout

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I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conviction of four felony counts of lying under oath and obstruction of justice on Tuesday marked the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted in a federal investigation since the Reagan Iran-Contra scandal. Libby will likely appeal the verdict and he remains out of prison until sentencing is imposed; however, several political questions are raised in the meantime.

First, will this conviction have an impact on President Bush's image and agenda in the near future? Bush's national job approval rating is already at near record lows—33 percent in a recent USA Today / Gallup Poll, 31 percent in the last Newsweek poll, and 29 percent in the last CBS News / New York Times poll (all polls taken within the last week). Bush's approval rating in the Upper Midwest is likewise in the low- to mid-30s: 34 percent in Wisconsin, 34 percent in Iowa, and 35 percent in Minnesota (SurveyUSA). Bush has not gained any ground on his political opponents nor any cache with the public since the November 2006 Democratic mini-landslide at the ballot box, and the Libby conviction will not help him in those regards.

Secondly, in light of Libby's felony conviction, how much additional pressure will now be put on the White House—by Congressional Democrats or the public at large—for the President to make a complete statement as to how CIA agent Valerie Plame's name became known to the media in the Summer of 2003? (i.e. "What did he know and when did he know it?"). A November 2005 poll by KCCI-TV found 52 percent of Iowans believed individuals in the Bush administration acted criminally in the leaking of the CIA agent. To date, no one has been charged in the leak itself—Libby was charged for lying to federal authorities during the investigation of the leak.

Thirdly, the million-dollar question is whether or not President Bush will eventually pardon Scooter Libby. While President Clinton did receive some criticism inside the beltway for pardoning criminals at the 11th hour of his administration, nearly all of those pardons involved people out of the public eye. A pardon of a high-ranking administration official like Libby would likely provide the Democrats with even more anti-Bush fodder when running for Congress and the Presidency in 2008.

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