Analysis: Libby Case a Twist on Justice

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2007; 1:46 PM

WASHINGTON -- The latest twist in the CIA leak scandal has Vice President Dick Cheney saying he hopes his former chief of staff, now sentenced to 30 months in prison, will eventually get off.

And that, legal experts say, is an odd statement for a vice president to make.

While expressing support for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney and President Bush are also in the position of being officials sworn to uphold the law, running the branch of government that prosecuted Libby.

"It's a disappointment whenever a person who occupies a high office and takes an oath doesn't respond to a demonstrated serious criminal event in a serious governmental way," former Iran-Contra prosecutor John Barrett said Tuesday night.

"It's an adversary process and I understand the personal dimension, but the United States is the side of the case that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are on. Those are their jobs," said Barrett, now a law professor at St. John's University in New York City.

In the Valerie Plame case, Bush and particularly Cheney are more than mere friends of Libby, and more than mere disinterested public officials. Their actions are within the scope of the criminal investigation. Both were witnesses who underwent questioning by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

Within hours of Libby's sentencing, Cheney issued a statement saying that "the defense has indicated it plans to appeal the conviction in the case."

"Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man," said Cheney, saying that he was speaking on behalf of himself and his wife.

Asked Wednesday about a possible pardon for Libby, Bush said "it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss it while the process is going forward."

"My heart goes out to his family and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss his case," said the president.

"Libby's lies derailed the investigation, and Cheney's role has never been fully explained; the comments of the president and especially the vice president are troubling in this context," said Penn State University law professor Lance Cole, a former attorney for Democrats on the Senate Whitewater Committee and a consultant to the 9/11 commission.

Cheney's statement is unusual historically, says presidential scholar Stanley Kutler, author of a well-known book on the Watergate scandal.

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