Former top White House aide Scooter Libby sentenced to 30 months in jail
Federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton sentenced former top White House Aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 30 months in federal prison Tuesday morning in Washington, DC. The sentence came in spite of the pleadings of many Libby friends and associates who said his commitment to public service justified leniency. Libby will also pay a $250,000 fine, and be subject to two years of probation.
"Many defendants are first offenders, most defendants have family. We need to make clear that the truth matters and one's station in life does not matter," said Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who also serves as the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, according to a summary of the proceedings at the blog Firedoglake.
Fitzgerald was harshly critical of Libby for lying, which he said impacted his investigation.
"We had to...chase down rabbit holes that he took us down by lying to us," the federal prosecutor said.
Fitzgerald also said that in the course of the investigation, the grand jury had "to sort through this fun house of mirrors."
A Libby attorney, Theodore Wells, had argued that the former top aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had faced "Public humiliation," and given "exceptional public service to the nation," which justified a court decision not to incarcerate him.
Libby's own remarks were brief. He expressed gratitude to the court for treating him kindly, and said he was ready for the sentence.
"Now I realize fully the Court must decide on punishment, and I hope the Court will consider my whole life," he said.
Judge Walton did not seem persuaded by the pleadings of the ex-White House aide's attorneys.
"I've watched these proceedings with a sense of sadness because I have the highest respect for government servants. It is important that we expect and demand a lot of people who are in those situations. They have a certain high level obligation when they occupy that situation. In this situation Libby failed to meet the bar," the federal district judge said.
Libby was investigated in the course of a federal probe into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Wilson's husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to the African nation of Niger to investigate the veracity of claims that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had sought supplies of uranium for a nuclear weapons program in contravention of United Nations sanctions.
Special Counsel Fitzgerald indicted Libby on six charges in the course of the investigation, though Libby has not been charged with the actual outing of Wilson.
Libby's jury trial concluded on March 6. He was found guilty of two counts of perjury, one obstruction of justice count, and one count making a false statement to federal investigators. He was found not guilty on one other false statement charge. Fitzgerald had sought the maximum sentence for Libby.
"Because the investigation defendant was convicted of endeavoring to obstruct focused on violations of the [Intelligence Identities Protection Act] and the Espionage Act...the court must calculate defendantís offense level by reference to the guidelines applicable to such violations," Fitzgerald wrote in his sentencing recommendation to the judge.
Judge Walton in the hearing weighed whether or not the sentencing should be 'cross-referenced,' or considered in light of the investigation of the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. A Walton judgment in favor of cross-referencing meant the difference between as much as 37 months in jail and as little as 15 months in jail.
To reduce the sentence, Libby's attorney, William Jeffress, argued before Walton that the former White House aide had not participated in the underlying crime that triggered the investigation he is accused of obstructing. That Libby had not himself been engaged in the outing of Valerie Plame's identity as an agent of the CIA was a mitigating factor, he argued. Judge Walton suggested in his follow-ups with Jeffress that Libby's obstruction might have made it difficult to determine who was responsible for that crime.
Jeffress also continued to argue that Wilson was not truly covert, and that her husband had outed her on a variety of occasions in conversation with 'total strangers.'
A key part of Libby's plea for leniency were the 160 letters written by individuals in an out of government attesting to his character. Attorneys for Libby read excerpts from some of these letters in court.
Many of the letters were posted at the website The Smoking Gun.
"I know Mr. Libby to be a patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being, wrote former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. Nor do I believe that they will ever be repeated. Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it is to recall precisely a particular series of events," wrote Henry Kissinger, who served in the administration of President Richard Nixon and has advised President Bush on foreign policy issues.
The plans that Libby's legal team has for an appeal of the verdict are not known, nor is it known whether President Bush will pardon the former aide.