Bush Commutes Libby Prison Sentence
Monday, July 2, 2007; 7:44 PM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush spared former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak investigation Monday, delivering a political thunderbolt in the highly charged criminal case. Bush said the sentence was just too harsh.
Bush's move came just five hours after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. That meant Libby was likely to have to report soon, and it put new pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby's allies to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.
"I respect the jury's verdict," Bush said in a statement. "But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison."
Bush's decision enraged Democrats and cheered conservatives _ though some of the latter wished Bush had granted a full pardon.
"Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's decision showed the president "condones criminal conduct."
Unlike a pardon, which would have wiped away Libby's criminal record, Bush's commutation voided only the prison term.
The president left intact a $250,000 fine and two years probation for his conviction of lying and obstructing justice in a probe into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. The former operative, Valerie Plame, contends the White House was trying to discredit her husband, a critic of Bush's Iraq policy.
Bush said his action still "leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby."
Libby was convicted in March, the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.
Testimony in the case had revealed the extraordinary steps that Bush and Cheney were willing to take to discredit a critic of the Iraq war.
Libby's supporters celebrated the president's decision.