'Decider' Turns 'Commuter' -- Libby Avoids Jail

By: The Associated Press and E&P Staff President Bush commuted the sentence of former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby today, sparing him from a 30-month prison term in the CIA leak case.

Bush left intact a $250,000 fine and two years probation for Libby.

Bush's move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case. That decision put the pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby's allies to pardon the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to authorities and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of covert CIA operative Valeire Plame's identity. He was the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.

In a statement issued this evening Bush said, "I respect the jury?s verdict. 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 30 months in prison.? While a pardon is an official act of forgiveness, a commutation simply reduces the penalty.

The president noted, ?The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have suffered immensely. He will remain on probation.?

Some Democrats quickly hit Bush?s act. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said the move ?cements the legacy of an administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.?

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mi.) released a statement saying that "until now, it appeared that the President merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The President's action today makes it clear that he condones such activity. This decision is inconsistent with the rule of law and sends a horrible signal to the American people and our intelligence operatives who place their lives at risk everyday."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated that "the President's decision to commute Mr. Libby's sentence is disgraceful. Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone."

Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor in the CIA leak case, released a brief statement tonight. It read: "We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative and we do not comment on the exercise of that prerogative.

"We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as 'excessive.' The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.

"Although the President?s decision eliminates Mr. Libby?s sentence of imprisonment, Mr. Libby remains convicted by a jury of serious felonies, and we will continue to seek to preserve those convictions through the appeals process.?


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