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Judge Won't Delay Libby Prison Term

Judge Won't Delay Libby Prison Term

WASHINGTON, June 14 — A federal judge refused today to delay the start of the prison sentence for I. Lewis Libby Jr. in the C.I.A. leak case while he appeals his conviction.

The ruling intensifies the legal and political drama surrounding Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice.

Judge Reggie B. Walton said today that he found no reason to postpone Mr. Libby’s sentence of two and a half years in prison for four felony counts. Defense lawyers had asked that he be allowed to remain free while pursuing appeals.

Judge Walton’s decision means that the defense lawyers will probably ask a federal appeals court to block the sentence. It also sharpens interest in a question being asked by Mr. Libby’s supporters and critics alike: Will President Bush pardon Mr. Libby?

If

 the president does not, and if an appeals court refuses to second-guess Judge Walton’s decision, Mr. Libby will probably be ordered to report to prison in six to eight weeks’ time. Federal prison authorities will decide where. “Unless the Court of Appeals overturns my ruling, he will have to report,” Judge Walton said.

After the hearing today, Mr. Libby was taken to a probation office, where he surrendered his passport. Later, he left the federal courthouse silently and with a stony face, as he did daily throughout his trial and after his sentencing on June 5.

Typically, a federal defendant like Mr. Libby, who is not regarded as dangerous, serves his sentence at a minimum-security prison camp as close to his home as possible. Thus, Mr. Libby might be sent to a camp in Western Maryland, Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

There were no surprises at today’s court session, since Judge Walton had said earlier that he thought Mr. Libby should go to prison soon and that he saw no realistic prospects for a successful appeal. Still, today’s hearing was not without drama.

For one thing, Judge Walton revealed that he had received threatening letters in recent weeks. At first he just discarded them, he said, but as they kept coming, he began collecting them and has turned them over to the authorities.

Mr. Libby’s lawyers made a last-ditch argument today, asserting that the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, had been given too much independence. The judge dismissed that argument, saying that Mr. Fitzgerald was subservient to the Justice Department and thus could have been dismissed.

One telling moment came as Judge Walton referred to a motion filed by 12 law professors asserting that there were appealable issues in the case. The judge dismissed the motion, remarking acidly that it was “not worthy of a first-year law student.”

Mr. Libby, once one of the most powerful men in the Bush administration, was undone by the accounts he gave to F.B.I. agents and grand jurors who were investigating the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. agent whose husband, a former diplomat, wrote critically about the administration’s rationale for going to war in Iraq.

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