By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 16, 2009
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney said yesterday that he strongly disagreed with President Bush's decision not to pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, saying his former chief of staff had been left "hanging in the wind."
"I think he's an innocent man who deserves a pardon," Cheney said on CNN's "State of the Union," in what the cable news program billed as his first television interview since leaving office in January.
Libby, Cheney's top adviser, was the only Bush administration official to face criminal charges in the case surrounding the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative in 2003.
She is the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, who criticized the Bush administration for what he said was a deliberate misrepresentation of Saddam Hussein's ambitions to build a nuclear weapon in order to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion.
In the run-up to the war, Wilson, a former ambassador in Africa, was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate claims that Hussein had sought to buy weapons-grade uranium. He concluded that the assertion was unfounded.
Anonymous officials sought to discredit Wilson's findings by claiming his selection for the assignment was based on nepotism, exposing his wife's identity in the process. The leak, which appeared in a newspaper column, represented for many critics of the war the lengths to which the Bush administration would go to protect its Iraq policy.
Libby, who was involved in conceiving and defending the administration's Iraq policy, was convicted in March 2007 on two counts of perjury and one count each of lying to FBI agents and obstructing a federal investigation. He received a 30-month prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Four months later Bush commuted the prison sentence, leaving Libby, a prominent Washington lawyer for years, to face the fine and two years' probation. In a statement at the time, Bush characterized Libby's punishment as "harsh," calling his professional reputation "forever damaged."
Cheney and other conservatives urged Bush to issue Libby a pardon, which amounts to a full exoneration. But Libby was not included in the more than two dozen that Bush handed out in December in a final round of pardons, an often controversial end-of-term tradition.
"It was one of the moments that occurred in the administration where we had fundamental difference of opinion," Cheney said in the CNN interview. "I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon, and the president disagreed with that."
Cheney said he still speaks to Bush after having "traveled a long way together in eight years and two presidential campaigns. That built a very solid, lasting relationship."
But he added: "I was clearly not happy that we, in effect, left Scooter sort of hanging in the wind, which I didn't think was appropriate."
Rob Saliterman, the former president's spokesman, declined yesterday to comment directly on Cheney's interview. He referred instead to Bush's Jan. 20 farewell remarks, during he Bush called Cheney a "great vice president."