JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby will not go to jail now that the president has commuted the prison sentence of the former White House aide. Libby had been sentenced to two and a half years for lying to a grand jury and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Mr. Bush said the sentence was too harsh.
Joining us for analysis is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Good morning.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, Juan, what is the difference between a pardon and what the president actually has done?
WILLIAMS: Well, with the pardon, Scooter Libby's convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice gets wiped off the books. But with a commutation of the sentence, it's only the two-and-a-half-year sentence that really is removed. The president allowed the conviction itself to stay on Libby's record. He will have to pay the $250,000 fine. He will be on probation, unless he wins on appeal, which apparently is going forward.
And President Bush has said he respects the jury, and he spoke highly of the prosecutor. But he said he believes the sentence was too heavy and was excessive. And Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, said that while he believes that a commutation is legal with regard to the excessive sentence claim by the president, he felt the sentence was consistent with the law and stand - it's important to him that all Americans stand as equals before the bar of justice.
MONTAGNE: So will Libby himself have to pay this fine?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know what? There was a special donation - a special fund put together by some of his supporters to pay the fine. But, you know, from the perspective of President Bush and the people who support this commutation of the sentence, they feel that Libby's reputation - his professional standing, Renee, as a prominent lawyer, is going to be damaged. His conviction as a felon may mean he can't practice law. This is going to stay on the books.
The president said Libby's wife and children have suffered. And, of course, he's going to have court supervision. That's going to require him to check in, obviously. And it'll have impact if he has any legal trouble because all this will stay on his record.
MONTAGNE: And what are Republicans saying in hailing the president's move?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, Republicans - some conservatives, especially people who were supporters of the war effort, people were close to Scooter Libby, feel that he has been a loyal worker for the president and especially Vice President Cheney. They wanted a full pardon, Renee.
Fred Thompson, for example, who's likely to enter the Republican race for presidential nomination said that commutation was good because it allows a good American to resume his life. Rudy Giuliani - also a leading candidate now for the Republican nomination - said it was correct and reasonable.
MONTAGNE: And Democrats were - for their part - outraged. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid had this to say: Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war.
WILLIAMS: That's right, Renee. Joe Biden, for example, the Democratic senator, said these guys - referring to the White House - just thing they're above the law. Tom Lantos, a Democratic congressman, said how can we hold the line against injustice worldwide when our own executive branch sets out to smear critics, lie about it, he said, and then wriggle away when it comes to paying the price in prison?
So what you see is the Democrats having a very strong and negative reaction. And there's lots of talk inside Democratic circles - just generally around -that President Bush, in essence, rewarded Libby for not talking about other White House officials involved with this effort to discredit Joe Wilson, who was the husband of Valerie Plame. But he was also the man sent by the CIA to Niger to look into claims that there was some effort on the part of Iraq to obtain material - yellowcake - used to build nuclear weapons.
Joe Wilson said that with this commutation, there's no incentive now for Scooter Libby to tell the truth about what the White House was doing.
MONTAGNE: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: A timeline of the CIA leak investigation and reaction to President Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence are at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.