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Standing by Their Man

Scooter Libby, shown flanked by his lawyers, was little helped by the big names who wrote in his support.
Scooter Libby, shown flanked by his lawyers, was little helped by the big names who wrote in his support. (By Dana Verkouteren -- Associated Press)

Defense lawyer Bill Jeffress tried to start a debate of hypotheticals, offering a murder-case analogy: "There was no murder here. It was an accident, a suicide, what have you."

Walton offered a dueling hypothetical: "What if you can never establish whether there was a murder or not because the body wasn't found?"

Jeffress then conjured a "terrorist plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge" that "turns out to be a teenage prank."

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald proposed a beating case where "it doesn't matter whether a flashlight was used."

Walton, warming to the exercise, added: "It's one thing if you obstruct a petty larceny. It's another if you obstruct a murder."

The moot court thus complete, it was time for the main event. Fitzgerald, true to form, made his argument in eight succinct minutes. "Truth matters above all else in the judicial system," he argued. "One's station in life does not matter."

Wells, also true to form, gave a 34-minute discursive argument. "It's entirely appropriate for a sentencing judge to take into consideration the good works and the good deeds that a person has done," he said, distinguishing his client from all those people "from privileged backgrounds who do squat." Wells, reading from some of the more than 150 testimonials, outlined Libby's triumphs, from Boris Yeltsin to Project Bioshield. Along the way, Libby was described as an "island of virtue."

Because of "the public humiliation he has suffered combined with his extraordinary national service," Wells assured the judge, "incarceration is not required."

Libby, before asking that his whole life be taken into account, said he had "spent more than 1,000 hours in this building in the last year and a half" and experienced "nothing but kindness."

The kindness, however, was at an end. After praising Libby for his "essential role in keeping this country safe," the judge brought out the inevitable "but."

"But there is obviously the other side," he continued. "The evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability." Libby "did not take any effort to find out" about Plame's covert status at the CIA before outing her, the judge said, and his claims of memory lapses to explain his false grand jury testimony are "just not born out by the evidence."

Weaving his way through several howevers, buts and an "on the one hand"/"on the other hand," Walton finally arrived at his destination: "Mr. Libby will serve 30 months."

It is a harsh sentence, to be sure. But there's no telling how much worse it might have been if Libby's lawyer had read aloud the testimonial from Donald Rumsfeld.

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