Cheney Disputes Libby Verdict, Voices Support for Gonzales

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vice President Cheney said yesterday that he disagreed with the jury's verdict in the trial of his former chief of staff, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the investigation into the Bush administration's leak of the identity of an undercover CIA officer.

Cheney's remarks about his former aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, appear to conflict with the views of President Bush, who said after the verdict that he "respected" the jury verdict but felt that the 30-month sentence handed to Libby was excessive. Bush commuted Libby's sentence earlier this month, leaving a fine in place but exempting him from jail time.

Cheney declined to explain his view but said he agreed with Bush's actions: "I thought the president handled it right," he said during an interview with CBS Radio. "I supported his decision."

Cheney also defended embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, saying that Gonzales "has testified truthfully" before Congress and has performed well as head of the Justice Department.

"I'm a big fan of Al's," Cheney said in the radio interview. ". . . I think Al has done a good job under difficult circumstances. The debate between he and the Senate is something they're going to have to resolve. But I think he has testified truthfully."

Cheney said he does not agree with lawmakers, including Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who say that Gonzales's credibility has been gravely damaged. "I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the president, and he clearly does," Cheney said.

Cheney's remarks about Gonzales come amid growing furor in Congress over the attorney general's candor and after calls by a group of Senate Democrats last week for a perjury investigation.

Much of the uproar centers on Gonzales's characterizations of a warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency. Gonzales has testified that the program publicly described by Bush raised no legal objections, but others have testified that Justice Department lawyers concluded related parts of the program were illegal.

Specter, who was given his first briefing on the NSA program and its history Monday afternoon in an 80-minute meeting with Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, declined to comment afterward.

He instead handed reporters a prepared statement saying that he expects a letter from the administration by noon today about "matters relating to whether Attorney General Gonzales testified accurately that there was no disagreement in the administration about the Terrorist Surveillance Program," which is the administration's name for at least one part of the operation.

Also yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty announced that he had accepted a "leadership role" beginning next week in the Washington office of Baker & McKenzie, an international law firm with many corporate clients. "I'm looking forward to this," McNulty said in an interview. "After 22 years of public service, at this stage of my life, it just couldn't be a better time to go into the private sector."

McNulty played a role in the firing last year of nine U.S. attorneys, which has been another source of controversy for Gonzales. McNulty, who announced he was leaving in May, is one of more than half a dozen senior Justice officials who have quit so far this year.

Staff writer Michael Abramowitz and staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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