Libby's Lawyers Argue Against Prison as Fitzgerald Seeks 30 Months

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

Defense lawyers argued yesterday that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff should serve no time in prison for lying about the leak of a covert agent's identity, on the grounds that he is a selfless, apolitical public servant with an otherwise "exemplary" record.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's attorneys asserted in a court filing that a federal prosecutor's proposal that their client spend 30 to 37 months in prison is "grossly disproportionate" to the crimes that provoked a jury's guilty verdict in March.

Libby, who is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington on Tuesday, was convicted of four counts of committing perjury, lying to the FBI and obstructing a probe into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's classified identity.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who spent 3 1/2 years investigating the Bush administration's role in the leak and prosecuting Libby, this week recommended one of the longer prison sentences that federal guidelines offer for a first-time offender convicted of perjury.

Fitzgerald said the punishment would match the gravity of the offense and the intensity of his investigation into what he considered a serious violation of national security laws. He argued that Libby deserved an enhanced sentence because he "substantially interfered" with the special counsel's probe, which reached into Cheney's office in an effort to determine who might have orchestrated the leak.

Fitzgerald also said that the evidence he collected showed that Libby's lies followed substantial deliberation and were not "inadvertent" or unplanned, as Libby's attorneys had argued.

Defense lawyers said in court filings yesterday that no evidence was offered that Libby illegally leaked Plame's identity to reporters and then lied to cover up that leak. They also questioned the "unique" investigation that caught Libby, noting that no one was charged with knowingly leaking classified information, the crime the FBI set out to investigate in 2003.

"Mr. Libby endured a very public fall from grace," his attorneys wrote, in arguing that prison was unnecessary to deter Libby or others from such crimes. "These dire consequences are likely enough to the warn the public . . . that it is important to take FBI and grand jury investigations very seriously."

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who presided over Libby's trial, has wide latitude to choose the former Cheney aide's penalty. Yesterday, Walton acknowledged the intense public interest in Libby's fate and said that next week he will release more than 150 letters he received from public officials and private citizens -- some urging leniency and some calling for a stiff prison term.

In addition to hearing the arguments from Libby's defense, the prosecution and individuals, Walton will also consider the views of the federal probation office. Its suggestion is officially secret, but Libby's attorneys said the office had proposed a prison term of 15 to 21 months while citing potential grounds for a shorter sentence.

Fitzgerald has argued that Libby's lies about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame and his knowledge of Plame's identity diverted the government's probe and provoked an otherwise unnecessary year-long battle with media organizations to obtain reporters' testimony about their sources. But these assertions did not carry much weight with the probation office, Fitzgerald's filing disclosed.

Yesterday, Libby's attorneys cited Libby's record of government service, his otherwise unblemished career, the likelihood that he will lose his law license, and his legal defense fees -- over $5 million.

Quoting unnamed former public officials and colleagues, they credited Libby with helping the United States win the 1991 Gulf War, easing Eastern Europe's transition to democracy, and keeping Americans safe from terrorism since 2001.

Referring to Libby's conviction for lying, the lawyers wrote: "There is no denying the seriousness of the crimes of which Mr. Libby was convicted. . . . At the same time, there is no denying the kind of person Mr. Libby is and the contributions he has made to his country."

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