President George W. Bush spared Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby from prison in the CIA leak case, saying his 2 1/2-year term was ``excessive.'' 2

President George W. Bush spared Lewis “Scooter” Libby from prison in the CIA leak case, saying his 2 1/2-year term was “excessive.”

President George W. Bush spared Lewis “Scooter” Libby from prison in the CIA leak case, saying his 2 1/2-year term was “excessive.”

Bush acted after a U.S. appellate court today refused to let Libby, 56, stay free during his appeal. Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to investigators probing the 2003 leak of Central Intelligence Agency official Valerie Plame’s identity. Libby’s backers had argued for a pardon.

“My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby,” Bush said in a statement. “The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.”

The president’s action means that even though Libby avoids prison, his conviction stands, and he is still required to pay the $250,000 fine ordered by a federal judge. He can continue to appeal his conviction and fine.

Bush’s decision was denounced by Democrats. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who had demanded that Bush promise not to pardon Libby, called the commutation “disgraceful” and said, “History will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own vice president’s chief of staff.”

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of Illinois said Bush’s action cements his legacy as one of “cynicism and division” that “placed itself and its ideology above the law.”

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