I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s attorneys will argue in court that the former White House aide, facing 30 months in prison, should remain free on bond pending an appeal — as pressure mounts on the White House to grant a pardon in the case.
Libby was sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on his conviction last month on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Judge Walton said he saw no reason to allow him to remain free, but gave the defense until June 14 to argue their position to the court, to be followed by a court hearing and a final determination. If the ruling goes against Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney will have to surrender to begin his sentence in the next two months.
The highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair of two decades ago, Libby drew support from more than 150 military commanders, diplomats, friends and others who called for leniency. They said in letters to the court that he played a significant role in ending the Cold War and in the early days of the war in Iraq.
Many of the letters were delivered by the Libby Legal Defense Trust, a group of prominent neoconservatives who donated a million dollars to help defray Libby’s legal expenses, and the letter writers included former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
President Bush has been silent on the possibility of a pardon, saying only through a spokeswoman he felt “terrible” for the Libby family. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the president had no plans to intervene in the case.
“The judge has set up a process for which Scooter Libby and his attorneys can appeal both the judge’s decision today, as well as the jury verdict,” she told reporters shortly after the sentence was handed down. “And given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the president has not intervened so far in this or any other criminal matter, and so he is going to decline to do so now, as well.”
Mrs. Perino declined to say whether Mr. Bush would consider a pardon in the future, adding only: “Given the fact that the judge has set up a process for appeal and given the way the president has handled this for the past year or so, he’s not going to intervene.”
But George Stephanopoulos, who served in the Clinton White House and is now ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent, said on “ABC World News” that Mr. Bush “will come under tremendous pressure from Libby’s allies” to issue a pardon. The Wall Street Journal said it was “the cowardice and incompetence” of the Bush administration that led to Libby’s conviction and “feeling ‘terrible’ won’t keep his man out of prison.”
All but two of the Republican presidential candidates skirted the issue during a debate Tuesday night. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado said they would pardon Libby. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the case “argues more in favor of a pardon,” and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said it’s “worth looking at a pardon.”
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson said he likely would pardon Libby; Sen. John McCain of Arizona said, “He”s going through an appeal process. We”ve got to see what happens here”; former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Ron Paul of Texas said they would not pardon him, at least without learning more about the case.
Actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, an unannounced Republican presidential candidate who did not attend the debate, said on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” he would “absolutely” pardon Libby if he were president.
“It’s a gross injustice perpetuated in large part by this CIA and this Justice Department and this special counsel who they appointed — and it ought to be rectified,” he said.
No one was convicted for the leaking of Mrs. Plame“s identity after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, disputed Mr. Bush’s justification of the war in Iraq. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage has admitted revealing her name to reporter.