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Ironic twist to Libby case

/ Source: NBC News

In an ironic twist to the three-year CIA operative leak investigation, the only person to serve jail time turns out to be a journalist.

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller is now the only person caught up in Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's probe  -- examining whether any administration officials broke the law when they leaked to reporters the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame -- to spend any time in jail.

With his 30-month sentence commuted by President Bush, Lewis "Scooter" Libby was spared serving any time in prison. Libby was the only person charged in the federal investigation. No one was charged with the leak itself.

Miller, in July of 2005, was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the leak of Plame’s identity. Miller refused to violate her oath of confidentiality to Libby and spent 85 days in jail. With the support of the federal courts, she relented.

On Sept. 29, 2005, Miller was released after a telephone call with Libby. He reaffirmed a release of confidentiality that he had given her a year earlier and that she had already known about. The following day, Miller was questioned under oath by Fitzgerald before a federal grand jury.

In a personal account in the Times about her grand jury testimony, Miller wrote on Oct. 16, 2005, she was asked about a letter she received in jail from Libby.

"When I was last before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald posed a series of questions about a letter I received in jail last month from Mr. Libby. The letter, two pages long, encouraged me to testify. “ ‘Your reporting, and you, are missed,’ it begins," wrote Miller.

The letter itself, which referenced Aspen trees, became fodder for intense speculation on what the aspen comment actually meant.

Miller wrote, "Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter's closing lines. 'Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,' Mr. Libby wrote. ''They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.''

She said that Fitzgerald asked how she interpreted that line.

Miller said, "I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was."

Miller wrote that Libby said, "'Judy,'' he said. ''It's Scooter Libby.'"

During Libby's trial, Miller testified that Libby told her the CIA "was beginning to backpedal from the unequivocal intelligence" it had provided before the war about Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium.

She said that Libby said the CIA was doing so through "a perverted war of leaks" related to a fact-finding mission to Africa by former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

"Did he discuss the wife?" Mr. Fitzgerald asked. "Yes," Miller replied, adding that Libby had said Plame worked at the agency's division that dealt with limiting the proliferation of unconventional weapons.

Miller's testimony helped convince a jury in March to convict Libby of four counts of perjury and obstruction charges in Fitzgerald's leak investigation.

Libby will still have to pay a fine of $250,000, but now there is a question on whether he will have to serve two years of supervised probation imposed by the trial judge.

The federal judge who presided over the Libby trial said with the commutation of his prison sentence, the probation period may be called into question.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who was appointed by President Bush, said Tuesday that federal law "does not appear to contemplate a situation in which a defendant may be placed under supervised release without first completing a term of incarceration."

Walton asked Fitzgerald and Libby's attorneys to tell the court by July 9 how they think the probation issue should be "interpreted in unusual circumstances such as these."

Walton said he was informed that the Probation Office of the District Court will be in contact with Libby "imminently to require him to begin his term of supervised release."

Walton asked if the president’s action now precludes any supervised release of Libby because his prison term has been commuted.