MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick, with an intriguing sidelight to yesterday's sentencing of Lewis Scooter Libby. Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff got 30 months in prison and a quarter million dollar fine for lying about his role in disclosing the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Before sentencing, Judge Regie Walton considered the recommendations of almost 200 letter writers, many of them political allies of Mr. Libby. But there was also a plea for leniency from a noted Bush administration critic, the literary editor of the New Republic magazine, Leon Wieseltier. Leon, welcome to DAY TO DAY.
Mr. LEON WIESELTIER (Literary Editor, New Republic magazine): Thank you.
CHADWICK: You begin your letter to Judge Walton with this: I am in no sense a neoconservative, as many of my neo-conservative adversaries will attest. I am, to the contrary, the kind of liberal who many neoconservatives like to despise, and that's fine with me.
So why write a letter like this?
Mr. WIESELTIER: Because there's more to life than politics and because there are worse things in life than being wrong. Scooter has been a friend of mine for decades now. I know him to be a good man, an interesting man and a devoted man. And I wanted the judge to show my friend mercy, which I believed he was deserving of.
CHADWICK: Well, the court did release a copy of your letter but part of it is blacked out and it looks like the good story part. My family has been in Libby's debt for a long time, you write. And then several lines are covered. What did you go on to say there?
Mr. WIESELTIER: Nothing very salacious. I don't mean to disappoint you, but he did a very significant legal favor for my family at the time. We needed some legal assistance. We couldn't afford the legal assistance, and through the good offices of a mutual friend we found the legal assistance we needed in Scooter, who was amazingly kind and diligent on our behalf. I got to know him during that episode and I came to admire him as a consequence of that episode, and we stayed in touch over the decades. Even as we diverged to a certain extent ideologically, we remained friends.
CHADWICK: Still, perjury and obstruction of justice are serious charges, and in writing this letter did you not think your friend has been convicted of a crime, and that would call for some punishment, wouldn't it?
Mr. WIESELTIER: Right. I was writing to the judge about the subject of mercy, not about the subject of justice. I'm not a connoisseur of the Valerie Plame affair. Generally, I detest this White House for many reasons and I think Scooter is a kind of state-of-the-art fall guy in this particular plot. I understand that Scooter was convicted of a crime. I understand that something serious happened, and something unjustifiable was done to Ms. Plame. But I was not writing about justice, I was writing about mercy, which is actually what one does at this point in these sad stories.
CHADWICK: So how do you think about this thing now?
Mr. WIESELTIER: I'm deeply saddened by it. I think compared to what other people in this White House have done, compared to the mendacity that was perpetrated about the war, you know, it saddens me and somewhat angers me that this is the outcome. I'm not here to say that Scooter is innocent. If Scooter is guilty, then I'm here to say that a good man did something wrong. And that I can say really confidently.
CHADWICK: Leon Wieseltier, literary editor at the New Republic magazine. He wrote a letter to Judge Walton on behalf of his friend Scooter Libby, sentenced to 30 months in jail.
Leon, thank you.
Mr. WIESELTIER: My pleasure. Thanks.
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