Scooter Libby's Pals, Trusting In Providence

By Libby Copeland and David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The men behind The Man Behind Dick Cheney are relieved.

They are people of means and influence, ambassadors and honorables, and they've raised millions to pay for the legal expenses of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Yesterday evening they learned, along with the rest of us, that the president has commuted Libby's 30-month sentence and the vice president's former chief of staff won't be going to jail for lying.

Former ambassador to Italy and developer Mel Sembler was returning from a fundraiser, and his chartered flight had just touched down in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I got off the airplane and picked up my telephone and turned it back on again and found about 12 phone messages," said Sembler, the chairman of the Libby Legal Defense Trust. "I was most pleased with my president."

Richard Carlson, former ambassador to the Seychelles, was standing near his wife when he heard the news from an Associated Press reporter.

"My wife burst into tears," Carlson said.

As a certain wealthy blond socialite recently learned, no amount of money can guarantee a Get Out of Jail Free card. But -- and this is a big but-- if one's prison sentence should suddenly be commuted by the nation's highest elected official, a large pile of money still comes in handy. Because jail or no jail, one has to pay one's lawyers.

Enter: friends in high places. Through personal contributions, fundraising efforts and direct mail, the 29 men and two women of Libby's legal defense trust have raised close to $5 million, according to Sembler and Carlson. They plan to continue raising money; both believe Libby's legal fees amount to more than the money in hand. And if he continues to appeal his conviction, the bill will rise.

The advisory committee of Libby's trust is made up of developers, investors, publishers, think-tankers. There's former senator Fred Thompson, the "Law & Order" star and Republican presidential aspirant -- who even held a fundraiser for Libby at his McLean home, according to Carlson.

"While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the President's decision," Thompson said yesterday in a statement. "This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."

There are former Cabinet-level officials, including Ed Meese, Jack Kemp and Spencer Abraham. There is conservative thinker Bill Bennett and political philosopher Francis Fukuyama. There's Ron Silver, of "West Wing" fame. There's Mary Matalin, a former Cheney adviser, and Nina Rosenwald, chairwoman of the Middle East Media Research Institute. There is Steve Forbes, who knows a thing or two about writing checks.

They are people who believe that Libby was given a raw deal when he was convicted of lying to FBI agents and a grand jury and obstructing the investigation into the outing of a CIA agent's identity. They say the prosecution overreached. They say the case was a travesty.

There's former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, who kicked in about $2,000 to the defense fund and lent his name to a group letter urging the president to pardon Libby outright. Simpson was home in Cody when he got the news yesterday. He was glad, but still mad at what Libby had to go through.

"The preening and pandering that went on, as if they caught a giant fish," Simpson said. "Throwing a net out the size of Manhattan and catching one minnow. They were going to catch somebody, and they got Scooter."

The president's Grant of Executive Clemency means that Libby still will need to serve two years of supervised release. And he will have to pay a fine of $250,000 that Sembler says will not come out of the trust. This, according to several friends, is still a high price.

"He's still responsible for the probation and the fine, and his life has been in shatters," Simpson said.

But money goes a long way toward piecing a life back together. Libby's friends are doing something Washington does best. The buck starts here.

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