I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, was convicted last Tuesday of lying to the FBI and a grand jury in the investigation of the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters.
Libby was found guilty on four of the five charges of perjury and obstruction of justice brought against him. He was acquitted on the charge of lying to the FBI about his conversations about Plame with a TIME reporter.
He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each guilty count, though legal experts predict a sentence of 21-27 months. His lawyers hope to appeal the decision.
“We believe, as we said at the time of his indictment, that he is totally innocent, and that he did not do anything wrong,” Libby’s attorney Theodore Wells Jr. said in an article in The Washington Post on March 7 . “We intend to keep fighting to establish his innocence.”
President Bush said he was “saddened” by the conviction, and was non-committal about the possibility of a pardon, which is being sought by many conservatives and Libby’s supporters.
“Mr. Libby is a good candidate for a pardon — I’ll put it that way,” said Senator Lindsey Graham(R-SC). “Mr. Libby can make an application for a pardon, and the president can seriously consider it,” he told The Washington Post.
The saga began in July 2003 when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an editorial criticizing one of the Bush administration’s justifications for war with Iraq – Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson had gone to Niger for the CIA in late 2002 to investigate those claims.
A week after the editorial was published, Bob Novak, citing anonymous White House officials, revealed that Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative. The revelation sparked an FBI investigation into the identity of the source.
Though Libby was not charged with leaking Plame’s identity (former State Department Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage later admitted to that), he was charged with lying to investigators about how he learned Plame’s identity.
Libby claimed to have learned it from NBC journalist Tim Russert, and that he forgot many of his discussions regarding Plame.
“It just seemed very unlikely he would have forgotten that,” said juror Denis Collins to the Washington Post in the March 7 article. “That he could remember that fact on a Tuesday and forget it on a Thursday.didn’t make sense.” He added that Libby was told about Plame’s identity nine times before his conversation with Russert.
The ramification of the conviction is already being discussed in Washington. While Republicans tried to limit the scope of the verdict’s meaning, Democrats claimed that it was a public indictment of the administration’s Iraq policy.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the USA Today that the conviction showed the administration’s “callous disregard in handling sensitive national security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in Iraq.”
Senator John Kennedy told The Washington Post that “this verdict brings accountability at last for official deception and the politics of smear and fear.”
Republicans quickly criticized the conviction. “It’s a terrible miscarriage of justice and abuse of prosecutorial power,” said Senator Trent Lott in a March 8 Washington Post article.
The conviction also highlighted Dick Cheney’s loss of influence in Washington.
“The trial has been death by 1,000 cuts for Cheney,” Scott Reed, a Republican strategist told the New York Times in a March 7 article. “It’s hurt him inside the administration. It’s hurt him with the Congress, and it’s hurt his stature around the world.”
“There is a cloud over the vice president,” prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told the jury in his closing statements.
But his troubles don’t end with the Libby verdict. A lawsuit brought against White House officials by Valerie Plame threatens to reveal even more about the inner-workings of the administration.
The Vice-President, along with Libby, Karl Rove, and State Department Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage who later in the case admitted to being the original source of the leak, have been named in the lawsuit.
“The Libby trial makes abundantly clear there was wrongdoing going on at the highest levels of our government, and that’s what this case is about,” said Plame’s lawyer Erwin Chemerinsky to The Washington Post in a March 8 article.
Libby’s conviction won’t support Plame’s case because the two involve different aspects of the investigation. Libby’s trial was about his role in the investigation of Plame’s identity. The lawsuit claims that Plame and her husband Wilson had their rights to free speech, due process and privacy violated when her name was leaked to the press.
However, it is hoped that the civil suit will reveal how the administration works on the inside.
“The civil case may provide the American public with its only opportunity to hear directly from Vice President Cheney, Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove and Mr. Armitage about what really took place behind the scenes after Joe Wilson exposed the truth about the administration’s justification for the Iraq war,” said Melanie Sloan in the article.
Sloan is director of the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also representing Plame and Wilson.
A hearing is scheduled for May 17 to decide whether the case should be thrown out.