Libby Given 21/2-Year Prison Term
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison for lying to federal investigators about his role in the leak of a CIA officer's identity by a judge who declared the evidence against him "overwhelming" and concluded that Libby "got off course" as a White House employee.
As U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton imposed the stiff prison sentence and a $250,000 fine, he said his decision came "with a sense of sadness" because he was torn between admiration and disappointment. "I have the highest respect for people who take positions in our government and [try] . . . to protect this country," Walton said somberly.
At the same time, the judge said, "I also think it is important we expect and demand a lot from people who put themselves in those positions. Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar."
Taking a strict interpretation for a white-collar case, the judge warned that Libby is unlikely to have his conviction overturned on appeal. That means that the longtime Washington lawyer, who resigned from his White House job after being indicted in October 2005 and was free during the trial, could be imprisoned within a few weeks. Walton agreed to rule on that matter at a hearing next week.
Libby, in a brief statement to the court before hearing Walton's decision, did not follow the usual custom of seeking judicial sympathy by expressing contrition. Instead, Libby said in a soft, steady voice that "it is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life." After thanking the judge, he returned to his seat.
A federal jury in March found Libby guilty of four felonies, including perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to FBI agents about his contacts with reporters regarding covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. Her employment by the agency was classified until four administration officials disclosed it to reporters in the summer of 2003, after the publication of a critique of the Iraq war by Plame's husband, a former U.S. ambassador.
"My take on it," Walton said, is that the trial did not prove Libby knew that Plame worked in an undercover capacity when he disclosed her identity to several reporters. Still, the judge added, "anybody at that high-level position had a unique and special obligation before they said anything about anything associated with a national security agency [to] . . . make every conceivable effort" to verify their status before releasing information about them.
"While there is no evidence that Mr. Libby knew what the situation was, he surely did not take any efforts to find out," Walton said. "I think public officials need to know if they are going to step over the line, there are going to be consequences. . . . [What Libby did] causes people to think our government does not work for them."
Libby was the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since several officials were implicated in the Iran-contra affair of the Reagan era two decades ago.
Libby, 56, was the only person charged in the 3 1/2 -year investigation, although the FBI uncovered evidence that three other senior administration officials had also divulged Plame's employment while discussing the critique by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. The others were then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage; Karl Rove, the chief White House political adviser; and then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald said during the trial that some of these disclosures were meant to discredit Wilson's critique by attributing to nepotism some research he did for the CIA about Iraq's nuclear program. But he emphasized that Libby's lying about his knowledge of Plame and his contacts with journalists had uniquely blocked him from learning the full truth of the episode.
"Mr. Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered," obscuring his true role in the leak and those of other officials, while forcing investigators to waste resources probing his account, Fitzgerald said in his sentencing memorandum.