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Libby Given 21/2-Year Prison Term

Walton, who is known as a tough, "by the book" judge, essentially rejected the arguments of defense lawyers that Libby should be given probation, partly due to his otherwise unblemished government career and his contributions to counterterrorism efforts.

"It would be within your honor's discretion to give Mr. Libby credit for his exceptional public service," defense lawyer Theodore V. Wells Jr. told the court before the sentence. "This would not be giving Mr. Libby a break."

Wells also quoted from several of the more than 150 letters written by Libby's friends to the judge, urging leniency. The authors included current and former administration officials who have been close to Cheney and Libby, such as former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith, as well as prominent administration supporters at think tanks and some of Libby's former law partners.

Fitzgerald told the judge that Libby's lies had made it impossible for the public to know whether he was shielding himself or others who committed leak crimes. In court filings, Fitzgerald had stressed that Cheney was among the first people to tell Libby about Plame, and said at one point that Libby's "disclosures of information regarding Ms. Wilson's employment may have been sanctioned by the Vice President." Fitzgerald told the judge: "The sentence has to make clear and loud that truth matters and one's station in life does not."

Besides giving Libby a fairly long sentence for a case involving perjury, Walton indicated that he may buck a trend in which federal judges have increasingly let white-collar defendants in nonviolent cases postpone jail time while appealing their convictions. Federal law presumes that defendants will be jailed shortly after sentence is imposed, but allows judges to leave them free if a significant question in the trial or the prosecution would probably lead to a reversal.

But Walton said he sees no significant issues on which he believes Libby would prevail on appeal. If the defense, at next week's hearing, does not convince Walton that Libby should remain free, Libby would probably have to report to a federal prison in 45 to 60 days, legal experts said.

"You've got to admire a judge who goes by what the statute says and tells you what he thinks," said Kirby Behre, a white-collar lawyer and former prosecutor who has appeared before Walton numerous times. "I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb saying Libby will probably end up having to start his sentence."

The White House said yesterday that President Bush does not plan to intervene "now," in the middle of the appeals process.

Wilson said in a statement that he and Plame are "grateful that justice has been served." He added that "Mr. Libby benefited from the best this country had to offer: the finest schools, a lucrative career as a lawyer and many years of service in Republican administrations. That he would knowingly lie, perjure himself and obstruct a legitimate criminal investigation is incomprehensible."

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