NBC News and news services
updated 5/31/2007 7:29:53 PM ET 2007-05-31T23:29:53

Former White House and State Department officials and military commanders are supporting former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as he asks a federal judge to spare him prison time in the CIA leak case.

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Prosecutors want Libby to serve up to three years in prison for lying about his conversations with reporters regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose 2003 outing touched off a leak investigation.

Libby's lawyers said Thursday that would be unfair. Citing numerous letters from former colleagues and friends, they said Libby deserved only probation.

"His dedication to promoting freedom abroad and keeping American citizens safe at home is beyond question," the attorneys wrote.

To be sentenced Tuesday
Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction, becoming the highest-ranking White House official convicted since the Iran-Contra affair two decades ago. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he received more than 150 letters on Libby's sentencing. Over Libby's objection, Walton said he would make those letters public.

One letter quoted by Libby's attorneys, from a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "I always came away from our encounters thinking how lucky the country was to have someone of his caliber helping think through the great security challenges we all faced."

Probation officers recommend a sentencing range of 15-21 months but left open the possibility that defense attorneys could argue for less. Libby's attorneys say his distinguished career should persuade Walton to spare him prison.

His attorneys also said a "distorted" picture of Libby has emerged from the case, and the letters received by the court praising him present a more accurate picture of their client.

"Distinguished public servant. Generous mentor. Selfless friend. Devoted father. This is the rich portrait of Mr. Libby that emerges from the descriptions of him in the more than 160 heartfelt letters submitted to the Court on his behalf."

"While working in the executive branch, Mr. Libby helped the United States win the Gulf War, assisted with the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, helped craft a strategy for reduced defense spending, and played a significant role in the largest nuclear arms reduction in history," attorneys said.

Libby's attorneys did not name the letter-writers in documents filed Thursday.

"They are conservatives and liberals; career public servants and people working in journalism, medicine, and law; professional mentors and pro bono clients," attorneys wrote. "They run the gamut from four-star generals and admirals to noncommissioned officers; renowned professors and cabinet officials to secretaries, law firm associates, and junior staffers."

Convicted for perjury, not leaking identity
They said Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was trying to use the perjury case to sentence Libby for the leak. That's the case Fitzgerald "could have sought to try — but chose not to," and it would be wrong to sentence Libby as if he were convicted of leaking Plame's identity, defense attorneys said.

Fitzgerald said last week that Libby showed no remorse for corrupting the judicial system.

Walton, who has a reputation as a strict judge who hands down tough sentences, has broad discretion over Libby's fate. If he sends Libby to prison, he also must decide whether to put that sentence on hold until the appeals run out.

That decision could determine how much time President Bush has to decide whether to pardon Libby. Bush has said he's "pretty much going to stay out of" the case until the legal process is complete. If Libby is ordered to report to prison, Bush will have to decide whether to pardon the former aide or let him begin serving his sentence.

Plame, who left the CIA after her identity was revealed, is working on a book about her career with the agency. She sued the CIA in a New York federal court Thursday, accusing the agency of illegally holding up security approval of the estimated seven-figure book manuscript.

The lawsuit was announced on the eve of the annual trade convention BookExpo America, when publishers often try to release big news. Plame is scheduled to speak at the convention.

NBC's Joel Seidman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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