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Scooter Libby Gets Out of Jail Free with Card from President Bush

Breaking news reports late on Monday showed that President George W. Bush had commuted the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former top aide who also served as Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. An appeal by Libby to stay out of jail pending an appeal of his conviction for committing perjury and other offenses was rejected by a federal court this morning.

Libby did not receive a pardon, but he did have his 30 month jail sentence commuted by President Bush. He remains guilty of the felonies of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements in the federal investigation of the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. He will also pay a $250,000 fine.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who is representing the Plame and her husband Ambassador Joe Wilson in a civil suit against Libby and other top Bush administration officials, slammed the decision.

"First, President Bush said any person who leaked would no longer work in his administration. Nonetheless, Scooter Libby didn't leave office until he was indicted and Karl Rove works in the White House even today," Sloan said in a statement sent to RAW STORY. "More recently, the vice president ignored an executive order protecting classified information, claiming he isn't really part of the executive branch. Clearly, this is an administration that believes leaking classified information for political ends is justified and that the law is what applies to other people."

Sloan's message was echoed by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"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," he said in a statement emailed to RAW STORY. "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."

And, Senator Harry Reid, Democratic Majority Leader, called the commutation 'disgraceful.'

"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," Reid said in a statement. "The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own Vice President's Chief of Staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law."

According to a lengthy statement released by the White House, Bush claimed that he had respect for "the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."

He justified the commutation saying that even without the jail time, Libby faces, "harsh punishment ... The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. ... 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."

Bush also claimed that the act was an appropriate use of the power he is granted under the US Constitution.

"The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency ... It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power," he said in the statement.

The White House had faced pressure from its conservative base to pardon Libby. A member of his legal defense fund told the Associated Press today that he hoped the courts decision to jail Libby "puts pressure on the president. He's a man of pronounced loyalties and he should have loyalty to Scooter Libby. It would be a travesty for him to go off to prison. The president will take some heat for it. So what? He takes heat for everything."

While Bush caved to pressure from his conservative base in issuing the pardon, the move may not be particularly popular with the broader American public. Only 21% in a March Gallup Poll favored a pardon for Libby in the case. Of the remainder of Americans, 67% opposed a pardon for the former aide.

It is unknown if there will be subsequent moves by critics of the Bush administration. RAW STORY was awaiting a statement from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), whose Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating the leak that outed Plame and the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. But Rep. Conyers was already calling for a further probe of the White House's actions.

"Now that the White House can no longer argue that there is a pending criminal investigation, I expect them to be fully forthcoming with the American about the circumstances that lead to this leak and the President's decision today," he said in his statement.

But engaging Libby in any subsequent Congressional probe could be challenging. Blogger Marcy Wheeler, who has followed the Libby trial closely, says that he will be able to invoke his right against self-incrimination.

"He commuted Libby's sentence, guaranteeing not only that Libby wouldn't talk, but retaining Libby's right to invoke the Fifth," she wrote at The Next Hurrah.

Bush's full statement, from MSNBC, is presented below.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today rejected Lewis Libby's request to remain free on bail while pursuing his appeals for the serious convictions of perjury and obstruction of justice. As a result, Mr. Libby will be required to turn himself over to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his prison sentence.

I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby's appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.

From the very beginning of the investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's name, I made it clear to the White House staff and anyone serving in my administration that I expected full cooperation with the Justice Department. Dozens of White House staff and administration officials dutifully cooperated.

After the investigation was under way, the Justice Department appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Counsel in charge of the case. Mr. Fitzgerald is a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged.

This case has generated significant commentary and debate. Critics of the investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak. Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation. Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime: Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury.

Others point out that a jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice. They argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place.

Both critics and defenders of this investigation have made important points. I have made my own evaluation. In preparing for the decision I am announcing today, I have carefully weighed these arguments and the circumstances surrounding this case.

Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

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 thirty months in prison.

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. 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 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.

The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power.

*****

Bob Geiger has collected the quick responses from five of the Democratic presidential campaigns.

The worst president in American history just hours ago revoked the prison sentence of Scooter Libby and, for all intents and purposes, pardoned him on obstruction of justice and perjury charges in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Here's some rapid response from most Democratic presidential candidates:

Senator John Edwards:

"Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today. President Bush has just sent exactly the wrong signal to the country and the world. In George Bush's America, it is apparently okay to misuse intelligence for political gain, mislead prosecutors and lie to the FBI. George Bush and his cronies think they are above the law and the rest of us live with the consequences. The cause of equal justice in America took a serious blow today."

Senator Barack Obama:

"This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security 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. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people's faith in a government that puts the country's progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."

Senator Chris Dodd:

"By commuting Scooter Libby's sentence, the President continues to abdicate responsibility for the actions of his Administration. The only ones paying the price for this Administration's actions are the American people."

Governor Bill Richardson:

"It's a sad day when the President commutes the sentence of a public official who deliberately and blatantly betrayed the public trust and obstructed an important federal investigation. This administration clearly believes its officials are above the law, from ignoring FISA laws when eavesdropping on US citizens, to the abuse of classified material, to ignoring the Geneva Conventions and international law with secret prisons and torturing prisoners.

"There is a reason we have laws and why we expect our Presidents to obey them. Institutions have a collective wisdom greater than that of any one individual. The arrogance of this administration's disdain for the law and its belief it operates with impunity are breathtaking.

"Will the President also commute the sentences of others who obstructed justice and lied to grand juries, or only those who act to protect President Bush and Vice President Cheney?"

Senator Joe Biden:

"Hours after a federal appeals court ruled that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby would have to begin serving his prison sentence while appealing his conviction for crimes of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, President Bush commuted his sentence.

"Last week Vice President Cheney asserted that he was beyond the reach of the law. Today, President Bush demonstrated the lengths he would go to, ensuring that even aides to Dick Cheney are beyond the judgment of the law.

"It is time for the American people to be heard.

"I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law. 202-456-1414"

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