By Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 2:12 PM
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for lying to investigators about his role in leaking the identity of an undercover CIA officer.
The federal judge who presided over the case indicated that he may not be sympathetic to allowing Libby to remain free pending appeal, but scheduled a hearing on the matter for next week.
"Evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability," U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said moments before he handed out the sentence. The judge said he was sentencing Libby "with a sense of sadness. I have the highest respect for people who take positions in our government and appreciate tremendously efforts they bring to bear to protect this country."
At the same time, Walton said, "I also think it is important we expect and demand a lot from people who put themselves in those positions. Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course.
Just before Walton pronounced the sentence, Libby briefly appealed to the judge. After thanking Walton for the court's courtesy and kindness during the lengthy proceedings, Libby said: "It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider along with the jury verdict my whole life. Thank you your honor."
As the judge announced the sentence, Libby stood between his two lead attorneys, utterly impassive.
The judge sentenced Libby three months after a federal jury found Cheney's one-time top aide guilty of four felonies for failing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury and the FBI about the disclosure of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. Libby was convicted of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements to FBI agents, and one count of obstructing justice. He was acquitted of a fifth count.
Walton instructed both sides to submit arguments about whether Libby should remain free pending appeal and said he would rule after a hearing June 14. Walton's remarks were a surprise to several legal experts who had expected that Walton would follow frequent court practice of releasing white collar criminals pending appeal.
Walton said he saw no significant issues on which he believed Libby would prevail on appeal. If the defense does not persuade Walton that Libby should remain free week, Libby probably would report to federal prison authorities in 45 to 60 days.
The White House has consistently refused to signal whether President Bush might issue a pardon of Libby, although an impending prison term could heighten pressure from Libby's supporters for the president to do so.
Bush is traveling in Europe and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and counselor Dan Bartlett informed the president of the verdict shortly after Air Force One left Prague for Germany, said deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
"The president said he felt terrible for the family," Perino said. "He's not going to intervene."
Perino said Bush is refusing direct comment until any appeal is resolved. She added that Bush refused to speculate about a possible pardon.
Defense lawyers pleaded with Walton to reconsider whether a higher court might look more kindly on Libby's appeal.
A loyal and savvy Washington insider who resigned from the White House the day of his indictment in October, 2005, Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since a group of cases that arose from the Iran-Contra affair of the Reagan era two decades ago.
Prosecutors urged the judge to impose a sentence of 30 to 37 months, saying that Libby had lied about central matters, impeded a serious investigation, and not displayed contrition. "We need just to make the statement the truth matters ever so much," Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Walton this morning. Fitzgerald also said, "one's station in life does not matter," as he argued that Libby does not deserve special consideration because of the public service he has rendered or the high government positions he attained.
Defense attorneys countered that Libby deserved probation. Theodore V. Wells Jr., the lead defense attorney, implored Walton to "take into account his entire life and his service to the country." Wells argued that "it is entirely appropriate for a sentencing judge to take into consideration the good works and the good deeds that a person has done. . . . To take into consideration such personal public service, community service, is not in any way to give someone a break because of his or her status."
Wells, noting the exceptional public attention the case has drawn, also argued, "the weight of being so publicly humiliated should factor in to some extent. . . . He has fallen from public grace. It is a tragic fall, a tragic fall." Wells said that Libby had two loves, in addition to his family -- the law and government service -- and will almost certainly be unable to pursue either one as a result of his conviction. The probation office recommended a sentence of 15 months to 21 months.
Under Walton's sentence, Libby would serve two years of "supervised release" when he leaves prison.
Libby, 56, was the only person Fitzgerald charged as part of a three-year investigation that penetrated the top echelons of the White House. Investigators conducted interviews with President Bush and with Cheney, who had been expected to testify as a defense witness but ultimately did not appear in court. No one was charged with the leak itself.
The central question in the probe was whether anyone in the administration had disclosed classified information illegally in 2003, when several government officials told Washington journalists that a prominent, early critic of the Iraq war was married to Plame, who worked for the CIA.
Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, had been sent by the CIA in 2002 on a mission to the African nation of Niger to evaluate reports that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium for a nuclear weapons program there. Wilson concluded that the reports were unfounded.
Early in the summer of 2003, a few months after the Iraq war began, he published an op-ed piece that accused the Bush administration of distorting the intelligence he had brought back from Niger, exaggerating the threat Baghdad posed in an attempt to justify the invasion to the American people.
Days after Wilson's article appeared, Plame's identity was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak. Prosecutors alleged that Libby tracked down and told reporters about her role at the CIA as part of an administration strategy, carried out by several senior aides, to discredit Wilson by insinuating that the agency had chosen him for the Niger mission based on nepotism.
Prosecutors successfully argued that Libby had lied repeatedly to the FBI and a grand jury about how and when he learned about Plame's identity--and what he told reporters about her.
In the court filing that sought Libby's prison term, Fitzgerald emphasized that Libby's lies prevented investigators from learning the full truth about the campaign to discredit Wilson, and may have helped conceal another administration official's criminal leaks. Fitzgerald noted that Cheney was one of the first people to tell Libby about Plame, and that Libby has testified that Cheney and he may have talked about sharing information about Plame with reporters.
Defense attorneys sought to portray Libby as a bright man with a notoriously bad memory who innocently misremembered what he knew and said about Plame, who, they contended, was a trivial matter in comparison with his crushing workload of sensitive national security issues. After the trial, a few members of the jury said they and fellow jurors did not believe that the defendant's memory was as faulty as the defense said.
The month-long trial cast a harsh light on the way power and information flow through Washington. It offered a window onto the nation's divisions over the war, the Bush administration's disdain for critics and the complex working relationship between an elite tier of Washington journalists and their confidential sources inside the government.
The weeks of testimony and evidence also exposed rivalries within the White House, and the close guarding of information, even among the president's top aides. The trial also made clear that Cheney was involved more personally than had previously been known in the administration's campaign to discredit Wilson.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was revealed as Novak's original source on Plame's identity, a fact that Fitzgerald learned early in his investigation.
At the same time, the trial pushed legal boundaries in compelling journalists to cooperate in a criminal probe. Fitzgerald maneuvered to force several reporters to abandon promises of confidentiality they had made to high-ranking administration officials. One journalist, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, went to jail for 85 days in an attempt to avoid disclosing to investigators the identities of Libby and other confidential sources. In the end, she too, appeared before the grand jury and at the trial.
In the weeks before today's sentencing, admirers and detractors of Libby sent Walton more than 150 letters recommending leniency or a harsh prison term. Walton today released the letters, which come from high-ranking government officials and ordinary citizens. Among the current and former officials are former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, and Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ten days after the trial ended, Plame broke her long public silence about the case during an appearance on Capitol Hill. Calmly but bitterly, she lashed out at the president's aides, telling a House committee that they had destroyed her career and slipped her name to reporters for "purely political motives That same day, the CIA confirmed for the first time that Plame had been working in a covert capacity when Novak's column disclosed her identity and that her employment status was classified under an executive order.
Plame, Wilson and their young twins have left Washington behind, moving to a new home in Santa Fe, N.M. She recently sued the CIA in an effort to force the agency to allow publication of her book on the saga.