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Former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby was sentenced today to two and a half years in prison. He was found guilty in March of lying to the FBI and a grand jury, as well obstructing a CIA leak investigation.
NPR's Nina Totenberg was at today's hearing and has our report.
NINA TOTENBERG: Sentencing hearings are pretty grim events and even more so for the once high and mighty like Scooter Libby, who previously served as chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, and today was just another convicted defendant pleading for leniency.
Libby looked perhaps paler today, but as is typical of these rituals, it was his wife who fought back tears and looked as though she had not slept in months. Libby's lawyers did everything they could to try to persuade Judge Reggie Walton that Libby should not go to prison at all. They submitted more than 150 letters from people attesting to Libby's service to the country, his character, selflessness and decency.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney did not submit letters. But among those who wrote were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Clinton Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross; and a veritable who's who of neocons from Paul Wolfowitz to John Bolton.
From the beginning of today's two and a half hour hearing, it was heavy going for Libby. Judge Reggie Walton: If the CIA believes one of its agents was outed by somebody and here, I think they had a legitimate concern and contacted the Department of Justice, and the Justice Department, in good faith, seeks to investigate and in the process, they make inquiries of a high-level government official to see what occurred, and the official lies to prevent the investigation from going forward, that's the kind of conduct, said Walton, that the federal sentencing guidelines treats very seriously.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the judge that the sentence meted out should show that truth matters in the judicial system and one's station in life does not.
Defense Attorney Ted Wells countered that the Libby case is exceptional. Mr. Libby has been subjected to overwhelmingly negative press coverage. He's been inundated by hate mail. The social stigma of being so publicly humiliated should factor in to some extent to the sentence. He has fallen from public grace, said Wells. It is a tragic fall. A tragic fall.
Libby, for his part, simply asked the judge to consider not just the jury's verdict but his whole life. Judge Walton said that sentencing proceedings are particularly hard when they involve someone like Libby who's played a central role in protecting the nation from harm. But, added the judge, I think the evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability.
The judge said he'd watch the proceedings with sadness, concluding that the evidence did not support Libby's claim to have testified truthfully. That he didn't remember who Valerie Plame Wilson was. Not only did Libby discuss Mrs. Wilson with the vice president, observed the judge, he discussed her with several people at the CIA and with high-level people at the State Department. For whatever reason, said the judge, he decided to reveal her identity to the media on several occasions. And then, when he was confronted about it during the investigation, he had concerns he'd done something wrong.
And so he lied about it. I think, said the judge, that it's important that people who occupy positions of responsibility in our nation have to appreciate that if they're going to step over the line and engage in behavior that's a violation of the law, there will be consequences.
And so Judge Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in prison, a tougher sentence than the 15 to 21 months recommended by the probation department. The judge said he did not see any reason to let Libby remain free on bail during an appeal, but said he would consider the matter next week at another hearing.
Libby's friends are hoping he can remain free on bail until later in the Bush term when the president might be more likely to issue a pardon.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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