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Context of 'July 2, 2007: Bush Commutes Libby’s Sentence'

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After former White House official Lewis Libby’s indictment (see October 28, 2005), he retains the services of three of Washington’s most powerful attorneys: Theodore Wells, William Jeffress, and John Cline. [Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] (Cline will not officially join the defense team until mid-November.) [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005] Wells, who has successfully defended other government officials from criminal charges, is “an excellent choice,” according to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt. Jeffress is a partner at Baker Botts, the law firm headed by former Secretary of State James Baker. [Jeralyn Merritt, 11/3/2005] Cline is an expert on classified government documents; according to former CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, he is “presumably hired to help the defense figure out how to ‘graymail’ the government, that is, force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets.” Stanford University criminal law expert Robert Weisberg says of Cline’s addition to the team: “This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government. This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy.”
Legal Defense Fund Headed by GOP Fundraiser - Shortly after the indictment, Libby’s legal defense fund is created, headed by former GOP finance chief Melvin Sembler, a Florida real estate tycoon. Sembler is a highly successful fundraiser for Republican candidates, and is a close friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. Lobbyist and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, a close friend of Libby’s, recruited Sembler to head the fund. According to Comstock, Sembler “holds Scooter [Libby] in high esteem as many members of the committee have. We’re confident that Scooter will be exonerated. He has declared he’s innocent.” [Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will note, “Sembler, ironically enough, was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Italy when the embassy in Rome first received the forged yellowcake documents, whose contents precipitated [Joseph Wilson]‘s trip to Niger and Libby’s legal odyssey.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290] The first contribution to the defense fund comes from Richard Carlson, a former US ambassador, the former president of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the father of conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. “He spent years in government service,” Carlson will later say of Libby, whom Carlson calls a friend. He “hasn’t made a lot of dough.” The fund will soon raise over $2 million, in part through a Web site, scooterlibby.com (see February 21, 2006). Comstock and former Cheney communications director Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003 and January 23, 2004) are deeply involved in the fund. The fund’s board of directors and advisers is studded with prominent Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Jack Kemp; former senator, lobbyist, and actor Fred Thompson; former senator Alan Simpson; former Education Secretary William Bennett; Princeton professor Bernard Lewis, one of the driving intellectual forces behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; former Clinton Middle East envoy Dennis Ross; and former CIA Director James Woolsey, another neoconservative ally of Libby’s. [New York Times, 11/18/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22/2005; Boston Globe, 2/26/2006] Howard Leach and Wayne Berman, two top fundraisers for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, are also part of the defense fund. Comstock tells a New York Times reporter that because both Ross and Woolsey served in the Clinton administration, the Libby defense fund is a bipartisan entity. She adds that the amount of money raised by the fund will not be disclosed: “It’s a private trust fund for a private individual and we haven’t disclosed that.” [New York Times, 11/18/2005; Tampa Tribune, 11/24/2005]
Plame Wilson Disappointed in Woolsey's Involvement - Plame Wilson will write of her disappointment that a former CIA director (Woolsey) could come to the defense of someone accused of outing a covert CIA agent. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 289-290]

Entity Tags: Dennis Ross, Tucker Carlson, Theodore Wells, Steve Forbes, Barbara Comstock, Wayne Berman, William J. Bennett, William Jeffress, Alan Simpson, Baker Botts, Bernard Lewis, Spencer Abraham, Robert Weisberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Mel Sembler, Fred Thompson, Howard Leach, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James A. Baker, John Cline, Jeralyn Merritt, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Richard Carlson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

MSNBC ‘Breaking News’ image with photo of Lewis Libby immediately after he learns he is found guilty.MSNBC ‘Breaking News’ image with photo of Lewis Libby immediately after he learns he is found guilty. [Source: MSNBC]A jury finds former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty of multiple felonies relating to his divulging the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby is found guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice. He is acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI, Count Three of the charges. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/6/2007 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
No Further Charges - The Associated Press writes, “The trial revealed how top members of the Bush administration were eager to discredit Plame [Wilson]‘s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.” Libby remains expressionless during the reading of the verdicts, but his wife sobs and lowers her head as the verdicts are announced. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says no additional charges pertaining to the Plame Wilson leak investigation will be filed. “The results are actually sad,” Fitzgerald tells reporters. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did.” Fitzgerald adds that Libby, by lying and obstructing justice, harmed the process of law, and made it more difficult to find out who actually did what in the Plame Wilson leak. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007]
Libby the 'Fall Guy'; Memory Defense Implausible - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007). One juror, Denis Collins, tells reporters that he and his fellow jurors found passing judgment on Libby “unpleasant,” but that in final consideration, Libby’s story was too difficult to believe. Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, tells reporters that the jurors had constructed 34 poster-sized pages filled with information they distilled from the trial testimony (see March 1, 2007). They determined that Libby had been told about Plame Wilson’s CIA status at least nine different times, and could not accept the defense’s argument that he forgot about knowing it (see January 31, 2006). “Even if he forgot that someone told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson,” Collins says. But, Collins goes on to say, the jurors believe there is more to the story than Libby’s criminal behavior. “We’re not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty,” Collins says, “but it seemed like… he was the fall guy” for Vice President Dick Cheney, his former boss. Collins says the jurors felt “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for Libby, and wondered why they were not hearing from other White House officials in Libby’s defense, particularly Cheney and Bush political strategist Karl Rove. “It was said a number of times: ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?’” He says that the testimony of Cheney aide John Hannah was particularly hurtful to Libby’s case (see February 13, 2007), with Hannah seesawing between claiming Libby had an “awful” memory (see January 31, 2006) and then saying he had an incredible grasp of minute details. Collins describes the jury as “dispassionate” in its deliberations, and adds that it took the jury over a week to conclude Libby was guilty of any charges. He says that one juror held out for Libby’s innocence on Count Three, based on reasonable doubt; otherwise the entire jury was unanimous for Libby’s guilt. Fitzgerald says that because Libby lied to both FBI investigators and the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak, it became impossible to fully investigate Cheney’s role in leaking Plame Wilson’s covert identity. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Jane Hamsher, 3/6/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will reflect, “[I]t seemed that Libby’s defense tactic of casting him as a ‘scapegoat’ (see January 16-23, 2007) had worked, but not in the way they had intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
New Trial? - Libby’s defense attorney, Theodore Wells, says he will request a new trial—something the BBC will call “a common tactic”—and if it is denied, Wells says he will appeal the verdict. Libby is fingerprinted and released on his own recognizance to await sentencing. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated,” Wells tells reporters. “We believe Mr. Libby is totally innocent and that he didn’t do anything wrong.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Weeping with Relief - Plame Wilson will recall watching the news on television: “To say I was a bundle of nerves—it felt like I needed two hands to stir the milk in my coffee—would be an understatement.” When the verdicts are read, she begins to “cry with relief,” and immediately calls her husband Joseph Wilson. His response: “Thank God. The charge of obstruction of justice was the most important.” Of her own feelings, Plame Wilson will write, “My feelings of deep sadness over the entire affair were tempered by relief that our justice system still worked as intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
White House Response - White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush watched news of the verdict on television in the Oval Office. Perino says the president respects the jury’s verdict but “was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family.” Perino says the verdict should not be construed as in any way embarrassing for the White House: “I think that any administration that has to go through a prolonged news story that is unpleasant and one that is difficult—when you’re under the constraints and the policy of not commenting on an ongoing criminal matter—that can be very frustrating.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Denis Collins, John Hannah, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Dana Perino, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

July 2, 2007: Bush Commutes Libby’s Sentence

Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 388]
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: Theodore Wells, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Laura Rozen, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tony Snow, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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