WASHINGTON – Presidential candidates and likely-to-be presidential candidates from both sides of the political aisle reacted quickly to President Bush's commutation of I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's prison sentence Monday.
Libby had been sentenced to 2 1/2 year in jail, two years probation and a $250,000 fine. Libby, who is appealing the perjury and obstruction of justice conviction in the case of the leak of a CIA employee's identity, was denied the opportunity to remain free while the case is pending. With the president's commutation, he will not have to go to prison, though the other penalties remain intact.
Among the first to offer support was former Tennessee senator and possible White House hopeful Fred Thompson, who served on the advisory board of the legal defense fund for Libby, and urged Bush to pardon him.
"I am very happy for Scooter Libby," Thompson said. "I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife and children. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."
GOP presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said: "After evaluating the facts, the president came to a reasonable decision and I believe the decision was correct."
Democratic presidential candidate and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama offered a different take.
"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," Obama said. "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."
Presidential candidate and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton described actions that led to Libby's conviction as part of a larger effort by the White House to silence critics of the war in Iraq.
"Today's decision is yet another example that this administration simply considers itself above the law," said Clinton of Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence. "This case arose from the administration's politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies.
"Four years into the Iraq war, Americans are still living with the consequences of this White House's efforts to quell dissent. This commutation sends the clear signal that in this Administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."
Fellow 2008 hopeful and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards also blasted the commuted sentence.
"Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today," Edwards said. "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."
“Last week Vice President Cheney asserted that he was beyond the reach of the law," added Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, another presidential candidate. "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."
Other partisans also expressed outrage.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said: "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.
"Judge (Reggie) Walton correctly determined that Libby deserved to be imprisoned for lying about a matter of national security," Reid said. "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."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The president's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.
"The president said he would hold accountable anyone involved in the Valerie Plame leak case. By his action today, the president shows his word is not to be believed," Pelosi said. "He has abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice, he has failed to uphold the rule of law, and he has failed to hold his administration accountable."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said:"It is very disappointing that the president has chosen to substitute his judgment for that of the trial judge who heard all the evidence in Mr. Libby's case, as well as the federal appellate panel which ruled today that Mr. Libby could not delay serving his prison term.
"The charges against Mr. Libby were not insubstantial; a jury convicted him of lying to authorities and obstructing the investigation into the public disclosure of a CIA operative's identity." Stoyer said. " In the last election, accountability for wrongdoing was a major issue. With this decision today in the Libby case, the president continues to demonstrate that he rejects accountability for wrongdoing in his administration."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry also criticized the decision as a misstep of justice.
"President Bush's 11th hour commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence makes a mockery of the justice system and betrays the idea that all Americans are expected to be held accountable for their actions, even close friends of Vice President Cheney," Kerry said. "It's a tragedy that with young Americans paying the ultimate price in Iraq for this administration's mistakes, this White House continues to avoid accountability and reward deceit for their friends and supporters."
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also chimed in.
"A jury of his peers found Libby guilty of lying about his role in revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative," Sanders said. "It is unfortunate that President Bush in commuting his sentence has once again put political considerations above the interests of our judicial system."
Republican congressional leaders countered with statements of support for the reduced penalty for Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.
"President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby," said House Republican Whip Roy Blunt. "The prison sentence was overly harsh and the punishment did not fit the crime. The sentence was based on charges that had nothing to do with the leak of the identity of a CIA operative."