Former White House aide Scooter Libby sentenced to 2 1/2 years in CIA leak case
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Libby is the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Tuesday for lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation -- the probe that showed a White House obsessed with criticism of its decision to go to war.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair, asked for leniency, but a federal judge said he would not reward someone who hindered the investigation into the exposure of a CIA operative. The operative's husband had accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
No date was set immediately for Libby to report to prison.
"Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course," said U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who spent years investigating the case, said, "We need to make the statement that the truth matters ever so much." He had asked for a sentence of up to three years, while Libby had asked for probation and no time in prison.
Reaction from the White House was still supportive -- but somber.
President Bush, traveling in Europe, said through a spokesman that he "felt terrible for the family," especially Libby's wife and children. Libby and his wife, Harriet Grant, have two school-age children, a son and a daughter.
Cheney said he hoped his former top aide would prevail on appeal.
Libby did not apologize and has maintained his innocence.
"It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life," he said in brief remarks in court before the sentencing, his first public statement about the case since his indictment in 2005.
A Republican stalwart, he 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.
He was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters about CIA official Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald questioned Bush and Cheney in a probe that became a symbol of the administration's deepening problems.
"Mr. Libby was the poster child for all that has gone wrong in this terrible war," defense attorney Theodore Wells said. "He has fallen from public grace. It is a tragic fall, a tragic fall."
Cheney, looking to Libby's appeal, said, "Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man."
Defense attorneys sought to have the sentence delayed until appeals run out. A delay also would give Bush more time to consider calls from Libby's allies to pardon the longtime aide.
Walton said he saw no reason to put the sentence on hold but agreed to consider it. He scheduled a hearing for a week from Thursday.
Libby and Fitzgerald left court without speaking to reporters.
Among Libby's supporting letter writers were former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Libby's attorneys noted that Fitzgerald never charged anyone with leaking Plame's identity, including former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage or White House political adviser Karl Rove, the original sources of the leak.
"No one was ever charged. Nobody ever pleaded guilty," attorney William Jeffress said. "The government did not establish the existence of an offense."
But Walton, a Bush nominee who served in the White House as deputy drug director under Bush's father, said public officials in particular had a duty to testify honestly. His voice raising at times, he said the leak investigation was a serious one and obstructing it deserved a serious penalty.
"It's one thing if you obstruct a petty larceny. It's another thing if you obstruct a murder investigation," he said.
He fined Libby $250,000 and placed him on two years probation after his prison sentence expires. There is no parole in the federal system, but Libby would be eligible for release after two years.
Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, applauded the sentence, and, though Fitzgerald has said his investigation is complete, they urged Libby to cooperate with authorities.
"As Mr. Fitzgerald has said, a cloud remains over the vice president," Wilson said.
It was Cheney who revealed Plame's identity to Libby in June 2003 after her husband began questioning the administration's prewar intelligence. Several other officials testified that they, too, discussed the CIA operative with Libby as Wilson's criticism mounted.
Libby said he forgot those conversations and was surprised to learn about Plame a month later from NBC newsman Tim Russert. Russert, the government's star witness at trial, testified the two men never discussed Plame. Fitzgerald said Libby concocted the Russert story to shield him from prosecution for improperly handling classified information.
The trial also revealed how the White House strategically leaked information and used journalists to make its case for war and defend itself from criticism, often through the cloak of anonymity.
Though the trial is over, the legal fight over the leak continues. Plame and Wilson are suing Libby, Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials, accusing them of violating their privacy rights. A judge is considering whether to dismiss the lawsuit.
Plame is also suing the CIA for allegedly holding up publication of her memoir, in which she wants to discuss details about her 20-year career at the intelligence agency. CIA officials say the material she wants to publish is classified.
Libby left court to shouts of two or three protesters and a throng of reporters and photographers.
"You should go right to jail!" a protester screamed.
Libby said nothing, stepping into a car and being driven away.
On the Net:
Letters to the court defending and opposing Libby: