WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former top aide to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was sentenced on Tuesday to 2 1/2 years in prison for lying and obstructing an investigation related to the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton imposed the stiff sentence on Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying to investigators trying to determine who leaked the identity of CIA analyst Valerie Plame in 2003.
Walton also imposed a fine of $250,000 (125,000 pounds) and two years probation.
A spokeswoman for President George W. Bush, who could pardon Libby, said Bush had no plans to intervene in the case while the appeals process continues.
Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, had made a final appeal for leniency. “It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider along with the jury verdict my whole life,” he said quietly.
Walton, however, said while Libby’s government service was admirable, it made his crime especially serious.
“It’s important that we expect and demand a lot from people who put themselves in those positions,” Walton said. “Mr. Libby failed to meet that bar. For whatever reason, he got off course.”
The 30-month sentence imposed by Walton was substantially higher than the 15 to 21 months recommended by the probation office.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, travelling with Bush in Europe, said the president felt terrible for Libby’s family and noted the appeals process was just getting under way.
“Given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the president has not intervened so far in any other criminal matter and he is going to decline to do so now,” Perino said.
Cheney noted that Libby’s defence team plans an appeal.
“Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man,” he said in a statement.
Libby’s charges grew out of a high-profile investigation into the leak of Plame’s identity after her husband emerged as an early critic of the invasion of Iraq.
Plame has said the unmasking destroyed her career and was done in retaliation after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to build its case for the Iraq war.
The two are suing top U.S. officials, including Cheney.
“We are also saddened for the pain that Mr. Libby has inflicted on his family, friends and the nation,” the two said in a statement. “That he would knowingly lie, perjure himself and obstruct a legitimate criminal investigation is incomprehensible.”
Nobody was charged with blowing Plame’s cover, but Libby was found guilty of obstruction of justice, making false statements to the FBI and two counts of perjury. He was found not guilty of one charge of making false statements.
Libby was one of several Bush administration officials — another was top Bush aide Karl Rove — who discussed Plame with reporters at a time when her employment status was classified. Rove was not charged in the case.
A hearing was set for next week on whether Libby can remain out of prison as he appeals.
That process could last until nearly the end of Bush’s second and final term in office, when he would presumably be more free to pardon his vice president’s one-time top assistant.
“I find it very plausible that we’re going to see a pardon right in that window after the election and before the president leaves office” in January 2009, said Scott Fredricksen, a former government lawyer.
Libby’s supporters wrote roughly 150 letters to Walton urging clemency. Among them were former defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his former deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Rostock, Germany