Professor P.S. Ruckman of Rock Valley College has studied pardons, and wrote to David Frum of NRO about the extensive array of tools available to presidents seeking to avoid injustice through use of executive power as a check on the judiciary. Some highlights of what he found:
By granting a respite (or a series of respites), the president can 1) help Libby avoid prison 2) allow the appellate process to continue, for now, without the disruption of a pardon and 3) allow any decision on a pardon to be made after the election - a clear political concern to many. Many a president has granted respites and many have explained their decisions in terms of allowing individuals to stay out of prison during the appellate process. [....]
A respite delays the imposition of a sentence. It in no way addresses issues related to due process or guilt of innocence. Nor does it change the nature (severity) of the sentence. It only delays the execution of the sentence. In my study of pardons from 1789-1932, I found hundreds of respites. Most of them delayed sentences for periods of 30 to 90 days and were granted to 1) delay executions 2) allow additional time to study a clemency application or 3) to allow an individual to remain out of prison during the appellate process. When the time period expired, presidents frequently extended the delay with a follow-up respite. Woodrow Wilson, for example, granted 16 respites to an individual, delaying entrance into prison for almost two years. After the 16th respite, he (Wilson) granted a full and unconditional pardon.
So, I am just utterly mystified that the conventional wisdom (among media and government officials) is that, somehow, Bush will be forced to pardon, or decide not to grant a pardon, to Libby if the judge does not grant bail. Bush could simply issue respites until the last day of the term, if he liked.
Hat tip: Barry Halvorsen