- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

President Bush yesterday commuted the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, just hours after a federal appeals-court panel said the former White House aide could not remain free on bond pending an appeal.

Mr. Bush waived all prison time but left intact the $250,000 fine and two years of probation ordered by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Libby’s conviction on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and grand jury in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Bush said the remaining fine and probation ordered by the court still “leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had ruled earlier in the day that Libby could not remain free on bond pending an appeal, saying that the former White House chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney “has not shown that the appeal raises a substantial question” under federal law that would merit letting him remain free.

The one-paragraph ruling was unanimous and included Judges David Sentelle, nominated by President Reagan; Karen LeCraft Henderson, nominated by President George Bush; and David Tatel, nominated by President Clinton. Libby’s incarceration had been expected in as little as three weeks at a minimum-security detention center in Maryland, Virginia or New Jersey.

The appeals court ruling forced the hand of Mr. Bush, who increasingly had been targeted by conservative supporters who clamored for him to pardon the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.

“The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged,” Mr. Bush said. “His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect.

“The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney said, “The vice president supports the president’s decision.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, was not as forgiving.

“As Independence Day nears, we are reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law,” Mr. Schumer said. “This commutation completely tramples on that principle.”

At sentencing, Judge Walton said he saw no reason to allow Libby to remain free but gave the defense time to argue its position. He said the evidence against Libby is “overwhelming” and warned him that he was unlikely to win a reversal of his conviction in the appellate court.

In his statement, Mr. Bush noted that throughout the Libby case, he said it would be inappropriate to comment or intervene until Libby’s appeals had been exhausted. But with the denial of bail upheld and incarceration imminent, it was “important to react” to that decision.

He said that from the beginning of the investigation he made it clear to the White House staff and others that he expected full cooperation with the Justice Department, and that dozens of White House staff and administration officials had “dutifully cooperated.”

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