Friday, June 15, 2007

Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s bid to remain free on bond pending an appeal of his conviction was denied yesterday by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.

With pressure mounting on President Bush to grant a pardon in the case, Judge Walton said he would not delay Libby’s 30-month prison sentence, which was handed down June 5. It is expected that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will select a facility to house Libby, and he will reportwithin six to eight weeks.

“Unless the court of appeals overturns my ruling, he will have to report,” said Judge Walton, who handed down the ruling after determining that the evidence of Libby’s guilt was “overwhelming” and warning the vice president’s former chief of staff that he was unlikely to win a reversal of his conviction in the appellate court.

Libby, 56, was convicted in March 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.

At sentencing, Judge Walton said he saw no reason to allow Libby to remain free, but gave the defense time to argue its position to the court.

The highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair 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. The letter writers included former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Bush has been silent on the possibility of a pardon, saying only through a spokeswoman he felt “terrible” for the Libby family. A delay of the sentencing date would have given the president more time to consider the issue but Libby’s pending incarceration is expected to accelerate any decision.

The White House yesterday said the president intends to continue to stay out of the case while Libby “still has the right to appeal.”

All but two of the Republican presidential candidates have skirted the pardon issue: Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado said they would pardon Libby. Actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, an unannounced Republican presidential candidate, 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.

Libby’s newly formed defense team — Lawrence S. Robbins and Mark Stancil — is expected to seek an emergency order delaying the sentence, although the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is not in session and it was unclear yesterday how soon a request would be heard.

The defense lawyers are expected to question to the appeals court whether special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald had the constitutional authority to prosecute Libby and if Judge Walton improperly excluded witnesses and evidence during the trial.

Prosecutors have said that none of the defense questions are “substantial or likely to result in reversal or an order for a new trial,” and argued that Libby should begin his sentence as soon as Bureau of Prison officials can arrange where he will serve it.

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