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Judge Denies Libby Request to Delay Prison Term

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Vice President Dick Cheney's former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby cannot delay his prison sentence while he appeals a conviction related to the CIA leak investigation. Guests comment on the legalities of the case.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, must serve his prison sentence, even while he appeals his conviction for obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with the CIA leak trial. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton made that ruling this afternoon in Washington.

    Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post was in the courtroom, as she was throughout the trial, and she joins us now.

    Carol, tell us the scene in the courtroom.

  • CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

    You know, it was an interesting scene, because, as you're aware, a week ago, Judge Walton issued a pretty stiff penalty at the sentencing hearing for Scooter Libby and said he'd go to prison for 30 months. But based on the pleading of his defense counsel, he said he'd wait another week to make a decision about whether or not to send him to prison, even though he's appealing his conviction.

    And, of course, Libby's friends, and lawyers, and he himself have pleaded with the judge today to let him be free while he appeals that conviction. The judge couldn't have been more firm in saying that we can't have two sets of justice for criminals, for white-collar defendants with good connections and the blue-collar criminals without money. It's got to be one set of criminal justice standards, and he said that the law was clear and Mr. Libby had to go to prison.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And the reaction of Scooter Libby, and his wife, and others in the courtroom?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Well, based on some of the judge's hints last week, I think that there was a sense of resignation, dejectedness, even before the judge's decision was announced, because there was sort of a preparing for the worst.

    Still, Libby remains stoic, as he has throughout these proceedings. It's really quite stunning. His wife wiped away tears from the corners of her eyes. And his defense lawyers, two lead defense lawyers, shook their heads as if to say, "Well, we thought it was coming, and here it is."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You said the judge, Judge Walton, you said he was firm. Tell us more about his demeanor, his — what was he emphasizing as he spoke?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    I would say that one of the underlying themes of the judge's comments today were about the public's perception of a fair court, an even-handed court. And he stressed that in every response he gave.

    He remarked upon how the special counsel's investigation had to be separate and unsupervised by the White House in order for the public to feel that it was fair, that there couldn't — again, as I said before — there couldn't be two sets of standards for whether you let white-collar criminals go free or blue-collar criminals go free pending sentencing — I'm sorry, pending their appeals.

    He also talked about the fact that, even though this is a high-profile case, he was not going to be persuaded by public sentiment and pressure. And he made two remarks about public pressure. One was that he had gotten a series of threatening and harassing letters from members of the public since he sentenced Scooter Libby. One of them or more, he said, mentioned harm to his family and he himself. He has a young daughter. He said that he wanted the lawyers to know about those letters, but he said it would have no impact upon him and his decision either to be lenient to Libby or not.

    He also mentioned another form of public pressure, and to this kind he was, I think you could fairly say, offended. He mentioned a series of constitutional scholars who had filed a brief late last week, saying that they were pleading, as well, on behalf of Scooter Libby for leniency and for his release pending the appeal. The judge said that this was no better than a brief he might get from someone less schooled than a first-year law student, and he said that it was absolutely unpersuasive, and he felt as though the lawyers appeared to be tossing out their very prominent names almost as a form of pressure on the judge. He said he was going to stick with the law.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Interesting. And we'll be talking to one of the law professors who signed that in just a moment.

    Carol, what happens now to Scooter Libby?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    What happens now is that, within the next probably two to five days, Scooter Libby's defense lawyers and his very well-respected appellate lawyer, this new lawyer, Larry Robbins, will file an emergency appeal with the court of appeals about simply the release issue.

    What they'll be asking for is for that court of appeals to go out of the normal practice and to overturn the trial judge in this case. The chances are slim that that will happen, but they are not non-existent. And, again, the argument is that there are these close legal questions that are important that the appellate court needs to take into consideration. Again, that's the view of the Libby defense team.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And quickly, barring that appeal being productive, he could go to prison how soon?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Well, by the time that appeal is heard and briefed, his appeals will be exhausted on that issue. But it could be as soon as five weeks from now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And do we know where he would serve time?

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    There are a lot of minimum security camps, prisons and ranches — farms, I guess is what they're called — all over the nation. But the ones that are within driving distance of Washington are probably the most likely. Cumberland has been mentioned several times as a candidate, and it appears that that would be a facility that the family would prefer because it is close.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, she's been watching this case throughout. Carol, thanks very much.

  • CAROL LEONNIG:

    Thank you.