Commuted Sentence Ends Libby Controversy Syndicated columnist Robert Novak was there at the beginning of the CIA leak case when he revealed the identity of Valerie Plame in his newspaper column. Novak talks about his role in the events that led to a federal investigation and the commuted sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
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Commuted Sentence Ends Libby Controversy

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Commuted Sentence Ends Libby Controversy

Commuted Sentence Ends Libby Controversy

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This week, President Bush commuted the prison sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Many are wondering whether this is the final chapter in the Libby saga or if the president may later issue a full pardon.

Libby's troubles began four years ago with a newspaper column written by Robert Novak. Novak revealed that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. He called her an operative on weapons of mass destruction. The investigation of the Plame leak led to Scooter Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice.

I spoke with Robert Novak and asked what he thought of President Bush's decision to commute Libby's two-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

Mr. ROBERT NOVAK (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): It's kind of a Solomonic decision, as if King Solomon had actually cut the baby in half and given one half to each of the competing mothers I think is the idea that he praises the special prosecutors, he praises the court. He says it's a just verdict but he shouldn't serve time. It doesn't make a great deal of sense. I think the friends of Scooter Libby are just delighted that he won't have to serve prison time for having gotten mixed up a little bit in his testimony, not part of any conspiracy. But I think they're very disappointed that the president didn't go the full way and give a pardon. I'm sure he would not have received any more political heat if he had pardoned him rather than this commutation of his sentence.

COHEN: Do you think a pardon is in the works? I mean, you write that you don't think it's going to be possible at this point.

Mr. NOVAK: I think it's very unlikely, particularly since the president went so far out to suggest that the judge and the jury and the prosecutor were on the level and it was a very good judicial process. I suppose you can always make a pardon, but I think it just makes it much more difficult now.

COHEN: Mr. Novak, I'd like to turn for a moment to your involvement in this matter.

Mr. NOVAK: Certainly.

COHEN: You've written that it was your column that triggered Lewis Libby's misery. Do you have any personal sense of culpability in this?

Mr. NOVAK: Well, if I hadn't written that, he wouldn't have his (unintelligible) for once so I guess that's a sense of culpability. Certainly, it was news value. I broke no laws, and apparently the special prosecutor, who was a very tough guy, Mr. Fitzgerald, felt no law was broken by the deputy secretary of state, Mr. Armitage, when he leaked the information to me.

So it will just be a question of if I had to do it over again what I have caused all this trouble, but that's kind of a silly thing to ask myself because I don't have it to do over again.

COHEN: Some critics have pointed out that you have given what they call contradictory statements about certain events in the timeline of this story. And one of them points to how exactly the information regarding Valerie Plame came to you, whether or not that that was information that you dug out or if it was presented to you. Where do you stand on that at this?

Mr. NOVAK: Well, it's really simple. There's no - I said nothing contradictory. There was a story in Newsday, which misquoted me and said that they came to me with the information. I never said that. The story is now clear. It was very murky for a while when I was constrained by grand jury rules from talking about it.

But I was having a background interview with the deputy secretary of state, Mr. Armitage, talking about Joe Wilson's mission to Niger to find out whether there was a Iraqi attempt to get the yellow cake uranium.

The irony, of course, is that Joe Wilson and I don't have much in common. We're both very critical of the Iraqi intervention. I certainly was not a war hawk and I was just, as a reporter, trying to find out something about Wilson's mission.

And in the course of the interview, I said why in the world that they send Joe Wilson, who hadn't been to Niger in many years, who was a Clinton official and who had no intelligence experience, why did they send him on this mission? And he says, well, his wife works at the CIA.

I said, she does? And he said, yes, in the counter-proliferation division. And then he kind of chuckled. And I thought that was an interesting part of the story, not a scoop. I put it in the middle of the story and I never thought it would cause this turbulence.

COHEN: I'm curious. Have you spoken at all personally to Scooter Libby recently?

Mr. NOVAK: I was at a dinner party a while back and he didn't have much to say. I just made some small chitchat. But I haven't had a serious conversation.

Let me repeat, because people get so confused, particularly the kind of people who listen to National Public Radio get confused, that Scooter Libby and I never talked about this, about Joe Wilson. He never gave me any information about Joe Wilson.

Of the sources I had, he was not one of them. I so testified under oath at his trial. I have almost nothing to do with the direct problems that Mr. Libby underwent.

COHEN: Robert Novak is a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a regular contributor to Fox News. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. NOVAK: My pleasure. Thank you.

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