Even with the his grant of presidential clemency, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the convicted former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and others involved in the CIA leak investigation may still have to face off in court with former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, who accuse them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy Plame’s career at the CIA.
The White House declined Tuesday to rule out the possibility of an eventual pardon for Libby. But even though he will not have to report to prison to serve a 30-month sentence for lying and obstructing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation, the legal battle continues in U.S. District Court, where Wilson and Plame have filed a civil suit.
The lawsuit accuses Libby, Cheney, White House senior counselor Karl Rove and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage of revealing Plame’s CIA identity in seeking revenge against Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration’s motives in Iraq. Libby was convicted of lying about his role in covering up the leak, which was eventually traced to Armitage.
Wilson expressed his anger at President Bush’s decision to commute Libby’s sentence in an interview Tuesday on NBC’s TODAY.
“I believe the president has utterly subverted the rule of law and the system of justice that has undergirded this country of ours for the past 220 years,” Wilson said.
“I couldn’t give a rat’s patootie about the fate of Scooter Libby other than he was convicted by a jury of his peers,” he added. “...What I care about is the president of the United States has short-circuited our system of justice.”
Cheney claims immunity from lawsuits
Attorneys for Cheney asked a federal judge in May to dismiss the civil suit, arguing that Cheney had absolute immunity. In any event, they said, talking with reporters is part of the vice president’s normal duties, and he was engaging in an appropriate “policy dispute.”
At the hearing, U.S. District Judge John Bates asked: “So you’re arguing there is nothing — absolutely nothing — these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment?”
“That’s true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy,” said Jeffrey Bucholtz, a Justice Department attorney. “These officials were responding to that criticism.”
Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to investigate reports that Niger was selling yellowcake uranium to Niger, wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times that was highly critical of the Bush administration, which he said was “twisting the facts” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war.
Libby optimistic on appeal chances
President Bush granted Libby clemency Monday, hours after a panel of appeals judges denied his emergency request to put his prison term on hold pending an appeal of his conviction.
“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Bush said in a statement. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.”
Libby will still have to pay a $250,000.00 fine and serve two years’ probation for his conviction in March on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Libby believes, however, that he has a good chance of winning his appeal because, his attorneys say, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton unfairly barred Libby from presenting important testimony at trial.
Libby’s lawyers say there are at least three “close” questions of law that Libby intends to appeal:
- Whether Walton was correct when he rejected Libby’s lawyers’ argument that Fitzgerald’s investigation was unconstitutional.
- Whether Libby should have been allowed to present more evidence and additional testimony that was withheld at trial.
- Whether Walton erroneously excluded “crucial evidence bearing on Libby’s memory defense simply because the defendant exercised his right not to testify.”
But the appeals panel said in its two-sentence ruling Monday that Libby had not shown that there were “close questions” of law “that could very well be decided the other way.”
The panel of two Republican judges and one Democrat may not be the same one that will decide on Libby’s full appeal, which could take more than a year to be heard.