President George W. Bush on Monday commuted the 30-month prison sentence handed to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to vice president Dick Cheney, for lying and obstructing justice.
The decision represented a political thunderbolt from Mr Bush and sparked immediate uproar among Democrats, who accused the president of overturning the rule of law.
Mr Bush had been under intense pressure from some influential Republicans to spare Mr Libby, a longtime pillar of the party establishment, from jail.
The move came hours after a federal appeals panel refused a final plea for Mr Libby’s prison term to be delayed, making his incarceration imminent.
“I respect the jury’s verdict,” said Mr Bush, in a two-page statement explaining his decision. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr Libby is excessive.”