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Inside Politics

Prospect of pardoning Libby splits GOP field

Story Highlights

• Brownback, Tancredo say they'd pardon former White House aide
• Gilmore and Paul say they'd leave case alone
• Giuliani says sentence excessive; Romney says prosecution out of line
• McCain, Thompson, Huckabee, Hunter say they'd have to think about it
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- When it comes to the debate over whether former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby should be pardoned, the Republican presidential field is split between "yes," "no," "maybe" and "I'd have to study the transcript."

GOP contenders were asked about the pardon during a CNN-sponsored debate Tuesday night in New Hampshire -- just hours after Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to federal officials investigating who leaked the identity of a CIA operative.

Only two candidates said outright that they would offer a pardon to Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff -- Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The discouraging news for Libby, as he tries to avoid prison, is that those two White House hopefuls combined, have a scant 3 percent support in the latest average of national polls.

Two other candidates who are currently long shots, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, said they would not pardon Libby.

"I'm steeped in the law," said Gilmore, who was once his state's attorney general. "I wouldn't do that."

Meanwhile, the front-runners in the GOP field held a more nuanced view.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he'd have to wait for the appeals process to play out to see if Libby met the criteria for a pardon. However, the former federal prosecutor said he believes the sentence imposed on Libby was "way out of line."

"I think what the judge did today argues more in favor of a pardon because this is excessive punishment," Giuliani said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney started out his answer by noting that during his four years as governor, he didn't pardon anybody "because I didn't want to overturn a jury."

But, he said a pardon for Libby would be "worth looking at" because the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, "clearly abused prosecutorial discretion" by going after Libby when Fitzgerald knew he was not the original source of the leak.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona was also noncommittal on a pardon, saying that Libby is "going through an appeal process. We've got to see what happens."

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said that before deciding whether to pardon Libby, "I would make sure that appeal was done properly, and then I would examine the record."

However, Thompson also said he thought Libby's sentence was too harsh.

"Bill Clinton committed perjury at a grand jury (and) lost his law license. Scooter Libby got 30 months," he said. "To me, it's not fair at all."

Two other candidates said they would have to review the transcript before deciding whether to issue a pardon to Libby -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California.

But Hunter volunteered that he would pardon Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two U.S. border patrol agents facing lengthy prison sentences for shooting an unarmed drug smuggling suspect along the Texas-Mexico border.

Critics of U.S. immigration policy have been publicly campaigning for a pardon for the two agents, arguing they were just doing their jobs.


I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby leaves court Tuesday after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for perjury.



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