Ex-White House Aide Libby Faces Sentencing

Lewis Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, faces sentencing Tuesday on four perjury and obstruction of justice charges. In March, Libby was convicted of repeatedly lying to the FBI and the grand jury during an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Covert agent Valerie Plame-Wilson's name was leaked to the press within days of her husband's public criticism of the Bush administration.

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Lewis Scooter Libby, the former White House aide, is sentenced today on four perjury and obstruction of justice charges. In March, Libby was convicted of repeatedly lying to the FBI and a grand jury during an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. Covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson's name was leaked to the press within days of her husband's public criticism of the Bush administration.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: The pre-sentence report submitted to the judge by court officials recommends that Libby serve 15 to 21 months. That recommendation was made using the federal sentencing guidelines that weigh both the seriousness of the crime as well as mitigating factors. The prosecution, also using the guidelines, is asking for a sentence of 30 to 37 months.

Noting that Libby has expressed no remorse for his actions, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald contends that Libby's sentence should reflect the value the judicial system places on truth-telling in criminal investigations. In short, that lying to a grand jury will be severely punished. Conversely, Libby's lawyers are asking that their client serve no jail time.

In court papers they portray Libby as, quote, "a distinguished public servant, generous mentor, selfless friend, and devoted father." They cite some 160 letters submitted to the judge attesting to Libby's character and long public service.

The White House said President Bush did not submit a letter. The vice president's office refused to comment. The defense sought to block public disclosure of the letters but failed. The judge ruled he would disclose them after sentencing. Judge Reggie Walton, appointed by President Bush, is known as a tough sentencer. Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman writes a blog that keeps abreast of sentencing trends.

Professor DOUGLAS BERMAN (Ohio State University): He is very respectful of when a jury comes back with guilty verdicts, and believes that any crime that subjects someone to a federal conviction deserves some significant punishment, and I have certainly gotten the sense, from what I've just read and heard about him, not only is he one who will go by the book, but who will not be particularly sympathetic to arguments that this is a unique kind of defendant and a unique kind of case that calls for a unique kind of sentence.

TOTENBERG: Libby's lawyers are trying to make just that kind of a case, contending that Libby has already been punished enough, since he will likely never be able to serve in government again, will be stripped of his license to practice law, and is burdened by $5 million in legal bills.

Perhaps even more important than the sentence meted by Judge Walton is the question of whether Libby will be allowed to remain free on bail, pending the appeal of his case. Professor Berman.

Prof. BERMAN: My instinct is Libby's defense team is as concerned, if not more interested, in prevailing on the bail pending appeal issue than they may be on the merit of sentence.

TOTENBERG: That's because Libby's friends are hoping he will be pardoned by President Bush, and most believe that the president wouldn't want to do that now, with more than a year and a half left in his term. Both President Bush's father and President Clinton saved unpopular pardons for their last days in office.

Under federal law, though, the presumption is that a defendant will go to prison once sentenced, the exception being if the judge believes the case presents serious questions for appeal. Most observers do not believe the Libby case presents such questions. But in the end it's up to the judge and the appeals court to decide if Lewis Libby can remain free for the time being.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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