President Bush on Thursday sought to put to rest the controversy over his decision to spare a top former White House official from going to jail, saying it was time to move on. He also called on the nation and skeptical lawmakers to stand with him on Iraq, despite a new report showing only mixed progress.
“There’s war fatigue in America. It’s affecting our psychology. I understand that. It’s an ugly war,” Bush said.
The president also said that, while al-Qaida remains a threat to the United States, it has been hurt by his war on terrorism and is “weaker today than they would have been” otherwise. He spoke as a new U.S. threat assessment found that al Qaida had rebuilt its capability to mount attacks to levels not seen since 2001.
At a news conference lasting over an hour that was dominated by
questions on Iraq, Bush was asked about his decision ten days ago to commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Libby was convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the outing of an undercover CIA official, Valerie Plame, whose husband Joseph Wilson was a vocal anti-war critic.
Bush acknowledged publicly for the first time that someone in his administration leaked her name to the news media. “And, you know, I’ve often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, ‘I did it.’ Would we have had this, you know, endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter?”
Bush would not directly address answer a question about whether he is disappointed in the White House officials who leaked Plame’s name.
The president had initially said he would fire anyone in his administration found to have publicly disclosed Plame’s identity.
“It has been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House, and it’s run its course, and now we’re going to move on,” Bush declared.
Several Bush administration officials revealed Plame’s identity. White House political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were the primary sources for a 2003 newspaper article outing Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also admitted telling reporters about her. And jurors apparently believed prosecutors who said Libby discussed Plame with reporters from the New York Times and Time magazine. Libby was the only one charged in the matter.
Meanwhile, the sentencing judge, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, took issue Thursday with Bush’s characterization of Libby’s sentence as “excessive.”
“It is fair to say the Court is somewhat perplexed as to how its sentence could be accurately described as ‘excessive,'” wrote Walton, a Bush appointee. He noted that the 2-1/2 year sentence was at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines.
Walton’s comments came in a footnote to an opinion formalizing Libby’s probation term. Bush kept in place two years probation and a $250,000 fine, which Libby has already paid.