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Published: Friday, 6/8/2007

Libby's unpardonable lies

LEWIS "Scooter" Libby's once top position in the Bush Administration makes his crime of lying and obstructing a government investigation even more onerous. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton got it right in sentencing the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney to 30 months in prison.

The judge agreed with prosecutors that Libby's false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice regarding the leak of an undercover CIA agent's identity, prevented them from determining whether the leak itself was a violation of the law.

In sentencing Libby to several months more than the minimum prison term recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, Judge Walton said if Libby had told the truth and not tried to obscure an investigation into a serious matter, the government might have avoided a long and costly investigation.

The judge, a former federal prosecutor appointed to the bench by President Bush, also noted Libby's position of high authority in the White House when imposing his stiff sentence.

"People who have the welfare and security of the nation in their hands have a special obligation to not do anything that might create a problem," said the judge. "I appreciate that sometimes people make mistakes, [but] the evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability."

The case centered on a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked to the press. Not coincidentally, the agent's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was an early critic of the Iraq invasion.

After he wrote a newspaper article accusing the administration of manipulating intelligence to make its case for war, someone blew his wife's cover. The move was widely seen as an attempt to not only discredit Ambassador Wilson but to intimidate future administration detractors.

Libby, and other key White House operatives, including Karl Rove, discussed Mrs. Wilson with reporters when her job was still classified. No one was charged with blowing her cover, but Libby's lies about those conversations and other matters netted him conviction on four felony counts.

Yet even before the man serves a day in jail, his supporters are urging President Bush to intervene on Libby's behalf. The ex-Cheney aide, who was also a special assistant to the President until he was indicted in 2005, is regarded by many neoconservatives as a loyal soldier who fell on his sword for his superiors.

They are pressing hard for a presidential pardon before Libby is sent to prison. But bowing to pressure from Republicans over a lying loyalist would be a big mistake for a President whose credibility is minimal.

If Libby's lawyers can't convince a reluctant court to put off their client's prison term pending appeal, then the first senior White House official since the Watergate era to face prison should do the time for his crimes.

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