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Bush Defends Libby Decision


President Bush is defending his decision to commute the prison sentence of a former top White House aide. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports, the action taken by the president has heightened political tensions in Washington.

After months of relative silence, the president intervened in the case of Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff and confidant.

Just hours after a three-judge panel ruled Libby could not remain free on bail pending appeal, the president issued a grant of executive clemency, commuting the prison sentence.

Mr. Bush says the action was justified.

"I made a judgment, a considered judgment that I believe is the right decision to make in this case. I stand by it," Mr. Bush said.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday after a visit with wounded soldiers at a Washington D.C. military hospital, the president stressed he weighed his options carefully. And he indicated he has not ruled out the possibility of an eventual pardon for Libby.

"As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out," Mr. Bush said.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to investigators looking into whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of a now-retired CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson. Her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, has been a harsh critic of the Iraq war, and there have been accusations that her name was made public for political reasons.

Libby was subsequently sentenced to 30 months in prison, two years probation and a 250,000 dollar fine. During a briefing for reporters, White House spokesman Tony Snow stressed that while President Bush commuted Libby's prison time, the conviction still stands and other penalties remain.

"The president, (after) weeks and weeks of consideration, came to the conclusion that 30 months in jail was excessive and he is comfortable with the (rest of the) punishment, which is still quite severe," Snow said.

Mr. Bush has the right to commute prison sentences under the Constitution, as well as the right to issue a complete pardon.

But his critics argue he overstepped the line in the Libby case, and acted simply to help a political crony.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York -- a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- was among the first to speak out.

"One understands loyalty and friendship, but it shouldn't come at the sake of the highest principles in the land one of those principle is equal justice," senator Schumer said.

Congressional Republicans were muted in their response. But former Senator Fred Thompson, who has indicated he plans to join the race for the Republican presidential nomination, was quick to praise the president. Thompson said the action taken by President Bush will enable "a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life."

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