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Libby supporters press for presidential pardon

Bush gives no hint of his intentions

WASHINGTON -- Allies of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby urged President Bush yesterday to pardon the former White House aide, but Bush rebuffed questions about whether he would intervene to prevent Libby's incarceration .

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was sentenced Tuesday to 2 1/2 years in prison for lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation.

He became the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.

A Republican stalwart, Libby drew more than 150 letters of support from military commanders and diplomats who praised his government service from the Cold War through the early days of the Iraq war.

"The White House is well aware of what a lot of supporters of Scooter have to say about this," said Mel Sembler, who served as Bush's ambassador to Italy and now leads Libby's defense fund. "There really is only one answer. This man has to step up and pardon him."

Bush, traveling in Europe, gave no hint about his plans.

"Yesterday was a very sad day for Scooter and his family," Bush told reporters. "But there's an ongoing process and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss it while the process is going forward."

"My heart goes out to his family," the president added.

Libby's lawyers are rushing to try to forestall the prison sentence. They planned to file papers today arguing that Libby should remain free while his appeals play out.

But that appears to be an uphill battle. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald intends to oppose the motion and US District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he sees no reason to grant a delay.