WASHINGTON – A House Judiciary Committee hearing into the decision to commute the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will also take a look at other presidential pardons, the chairman of the committee said Thursday.
"Yes, we’re going to review all of them, including Clinton’s, Bush one, Bush two, we’ll go back as far as they want," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said in an exclusive interview with FOX News Radio. Conyers added that the Nixon pardon would also be covered in the review.
"We’ll be doing the research. We won’t need to review each and every one of them but the whole idea is to examine to what use this part of our criminal law is being put and whether it’s being used adequately or are there other changes necessary," he said.
Conyers said he doesn't think President Bush acted outside his constitutional authority in commuting Libby's 2 1/2-year prison sentence, but he questions the use of that authority. The power to pardon is written into the Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. It states: "He (the president) shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."
"We’re trying to examine the use and misuse of the clemency power and the commutation power and we’ll be examining it of all presidents because that’s the only way we can determine whether they’ve been used properly and whether there should be changes considered," Conyers said.
He added that it "may be another problem" if lawmakers decide they want to do anything short of a constitutional amendment to limit that authority.
"We may be able to restrict it in some ways, but in addition to, we want everyone to be examining it," he said.
Ranking Committee Republican Lamar Smith of Texas told FOX News Radio that he was surprised to hear Conyers' plan for the hearing now scheduled for Wednesday.
"I really on the whole think the Judiciary Committee has a lot better things to do than to spend time investigating what is a constitutional prerogative of any president, Republican or Democrat," Smith said.
Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence on Monday, but left in place the $250,000 fine and two-years probation. On Thursday, Libby handed over a bank cashier's check to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for $250,000, plus an additional $400 for court costs.
Democrats have been lashing out at Bush for commuting the prison sentence for the former vice presidential chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case of the leak of a CIA employee's name. No one in the Bush administration has been convicted of illegally releasing former CIA staffer Valerie Plame's name.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., announced he will introduce a censure resolution against Bush for his "egregious and politically-motivated commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence."
"This presidential intervention is an unconscionable abuse of authority by George W. Bush, and Congress must step forward and express the disgust that Americans rightfully feel toward this contemptible decision," Wexler said in a statement.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a 2008 presidential candidate, said the Libby commutation "was clearly an effort to protect the White House. ... There isn't any doubt now, what we know is that Libby was carrying out the implicit or explicit wishes of the vice president, or maybe the president as well, in the further effort to stifle dissent."
On Thursday, the White House scoffed at Clinton's comments, saying no one batted an eye when, on the last day of his presidency, former President Bill Clinton pardoned 140 people, including fugitive financier Marc Rich. Ironically, Libby had been Rich's attorney.
"It seems to me that the hypocrisy demonstrated by Democratic leaders on this issue is rather startling. When you think about the previous administration and the 11th hour fire sale pardons, and issues that were provided commutations on the last day in the numbers of the hundreds, in the final time between the post-election period, it's really startling that they have the gall to criticize" Bush's decision, said White House deputy spokesman Scott Stanzel.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that White House counselor Fred Fielding reviewed Bush's decision to commute the sentence before it was made, and said that Fielding felt Bush was on firm legal ground. He declined suggestions that the White House made a misstep or that Bush did not exercise "proper diligence" in the case.
"I don't know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it," Snow said. As for Conyers' decision to hold a hearing, Snow said he hoped Clinton's pardons would come up too. "Well, fine, knock himself out. ... And while he's at it, why doesn't he look at January 20th, 2001?"
In his remarks to FOX News Radio, Conyers complained that the commutation sidetracks from the original investigation into Libby, and he expressed frustration that the committee has not learned what was discovered in Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the CIA leak.
"One way or the other that information should be forthcoming," Conyers said, deferring on whether he might call Fitzgerald to address the committee.
FOX News' Mike Majchrowitz contributed to this report.