WASHINGTON – An eventual pardon for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is still on the table, President Bush said Tuesday, one day after commuting the former vice presidential aide's 2 1/2-year prison sentence.
"As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out," the president told reporters after visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Bush said he accepted the jury's decision to convict Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case, but the judge's sentencing was too "severe." He said he carefully weighed his decision to keep Libby from serving any prison time.
"I made a judgment, a considered judgment that I believe is the right decision to make in this case," Bush said. "I stand by it."
Speakout: Does Libby deserve a pardon, or should he do the time for the crime?
The president spoke shortly after his top spokesman said Bush's decision to commute the sentence doesn't mean he won't hear an appeal for a pardon. But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said a request isn't on the table.
"The reason I will say I'm not going to close the door on a pardon is simply this: that Scooter Libby may petition for one. But the president has done what he thinks is appropriate to resolve this case," he said.
"There is always a possibility or there's an avenue open for anybody to petition for consideration of a pardon. As far as we know, that's not been done, and we don't know if it's contemplated by Scooter Libby or his defense team," Snow added.
The president consulted with senior officials of his administration before deciding to commute Libby's sentence, Snow said. He would not say whether Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in those deliberations.
"I don't have direct knowledge, but on the other hand, the president did consult with senior officials and I'm sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views , Snow told reporters in his daily briefing.
• Political Leaders Express Outrage, Support for 'Scooter' Libby's Commuted Sentence.
Bush decided Monday to commute Libby's 30-month prison sentence but keep in place the felony conviction, the $250,000 fine and two years of probation. The announcement came just five hours after a federal appeals panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term while he appeals his conviction on perjury and obstruction charges relating to the leak of a CIA employee's name.
The power to commute a sentence for a federal offense is vested in the president alone, and does not require a hearing at the Justice Department or White House or any disclosure of deliberations. However, according to the Justice Department's own guidelines, a commutation doesn't usually happen until a convict enters the prison system or while the individual is challenging his or her conviction or sentence through appeal or other court proceeding.
Libby had not yet reported to prison, though he had been assigned a prisoner identification number.
The decision earned applause from conservatives, though administration opponents called the commutation a disgrace.
U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife, Valerie Plame, was the CIA employee who's identity was revealed, has called Libby a traitor, and said Bush "short-circuited" the justice system.
"I believe the president has utterly subverted the rule of law and the system of justice that has undergirded this country of ours for the past 220 years," Wilson told NBC's "Today Show."
"The president short-circuited our system of justice by giving Scooter Libby a get-out-of-jail free card, thereby eliminating any incentive that he would tell the truth to the prosecutor, guarantees that there is a cloud of suspicion put over the Office of the President and makes him potentially a suspect in an ongoing obstruction of justice case," he continued.
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., went further, saying that Bush should be impeached for commuting Libby's sentence.
"It is beyond unthinkable that the president would undermine the legal process to protect a man who engaged in treason against the United States government, threatening the security of the American people," said Jackson, D-Ill.
But others supported the president's action, saying it was the appropriate response considering that Libby was not found responsible for Plame's initial outing.
"Given the fact that the prosecutor in this case never charged any individual with breaking the law with regard to the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s name to the media, I agree with the president that the sentence was excessive and support his decision to commute Mr. Libby’s prison sentence," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Snow said Bush decided on the merits, not political considerations, that the vice president's former chief of staff should be given leniency. He added that Bush respected the jury's guilty decision but called the sentencing excessive.
"The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone and to do that is to misconstrue the deliberations," Snow said. "The president's getting pounded on the right because he didn't do a full pardon. ... But the point of this is that you do not engage in these acts for symbolic or political reasons. You don't do it to make other people happy and say, 'Boy, you showed it to so and so.' The point here is to do what is consistent with the dictates of justice."
Former Republican National Committee adviser Terry Holt said he doesn't think the partisan attacks move the president one way or the other, but they are necessary evils in a political environment.
"I think both parties are sort of playing to their type in this case, that is motivating the base of their party that are most active in these kinds of conversations and political debates," Holt told FOX News.