WASHINGTON — A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had denied former top White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's request to remain free on bond pending the appeal of his conviction.
The panel said the request of the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and assistant to President Bush did not show substantial "close" questions of law that "could be decided the other way."
Libby's attorneys have said that the Bureau of Prisons had scheduled his reporting to prison in a few weeks.
Convicted in March of lying and obstructing an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton sentenced Libby faces 2-1/2 years in prison.
Last week the Bureau of Prisons designated Libby as federal inmate No. 28301-016 -- a number that will stay with him even after his release. Libby is the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald opposes Libby's bid to delay his prison term. He says Libby does not have a good chance of having his conviction overturned and should begin serving prison time immediately.
Libby's friends have asked President Bush to step in and pardon him, a request that Bush has sidestepped while the legal case drags on.
Libby, 56, is the only person charged in the leak scandal, which erupted after CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity was revealed in a 2003 syndicated newspaper column. Libby was not the source for that leak and neither of the two Bush administration officials who provided the information were ever charged.
When confronted by prosecutors and FBI agents, however, Libby lied about how he learned about Plame and whom he told, a jury found. He is the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.
The appeals court panel that denied Libby's request consists of two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee. Judges David Sentelle, Karen Lecraft Henderson and David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit make up the panel. Sentelle was put on the bench by President Reagan, Henderson by the first President Bush and Tatel by President Clinton. Judge Walton was put on the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Walton said Libby's guilt was overwhelming, "In my view, based upon the evidence that I observed objectively as the judge in this case, the evidence of guilt was overwhelming."
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Libby's lawyers estimated that Libby will have only two to three weeks more of freedom.
His attorneys wrote, in their filing to the appeals court, "The Bureau of Prisons will shortly designate a prison facility and direct Libby to report within a period of two to three weeks after designation."
Libby wanted his sentence delayed because he believes he has a good chance of having his conviction overturned on appeal.
Judge Walton took issue with the possibility that the appeals panel may rule that he was wrong. Walton said, "If we're going being to be told as trial judge we've got to let in that type of stuff, we might as well do away with the rules of evidence and just let it be a free-for-all and we just sit here, I guess, as a bump on a log."
The panel which denied Libby's delay request is not necessarily the same panel that will hear the appeal of his conviction.
The Bureau of Prisons does not say where its inmates will serve until they begin their sentence. Normally, prisoners are assigned to facilities within 200 miles of home. As a nonviolent, first-time offender, Libby likely will be placed in a minimum security prison camp.
Libby, who lives in northern Virginia, could be sent to a prison camp in Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, Minimum security institutions, also known as Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. These institutions are work and program-oriented; and many are located adjacent to larger institutions or on military bases, where inmates help serve the labor needs of the larger institution or base.
The minimum security institutions closest to Washington are located in Morgantown, WV, Hazelton, WV, Petersburg, Va. and Cumberland, Md.
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who petitioned the court to place him in a facility close to his Maryland home, is serving his five-and-one-half-year sentence at the minimum security area of the federal corrections facility in Cumberland, Maryland, about 2-hours from Washington.
Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, only lawmaker to plead guilty in the corruption investigation involving Abramoff, is serving a two and a half year term at the federal prison in Morgantown, WV.
Joel Seidman is an NBC producer based in Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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