An editorial in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction that recommended a pardon for former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby after his sentencing in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case echoed numerous conservative commentators and repeated right-wing talking points that misrepresented Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of the case.
In a June 8 editorial urging a pardon for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction repeated conservative talking points that misrepresented Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of Libby. The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was found guilty on March 6 and on June 5 was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine "for lying to investigators about his role in the leak of" Valerie Plame's covert CIA identity. In arguing that rather than having lied, Libby might have "simply recalled things differently than news reporters," the Daily Sentinel ignored testimony from government officials that contradicted Libby's testimony. The Daily Sentinel also falsely asserted that Fitzgerald urged the judge "to sentence Libby as if he [Libby] violated federal laws" prohibiting the disclosure of a covert agent's identity. Furthermore, the Daily Sentinel falsely asserted that Fitzgerald "declined during trial to even discuss whether Plame was a covert agent" without noting that it was Libby's defense team that filed a motion "to exclude evidence or argument concerning" Plame's employment status.
The Daily Sentinel echoed numerous conservative commentators in calling for Libby to be pardoned. The editorial's first argument against Libby's sentence was that it is excessively harsh in comparison with that given on September 8, 2005, to Sandy Berger, national security adviser under former President Bill Clinton, for his conviction on charges of illegally removing and destroying classified documents obtained from the National Archives.
From the editorial "Libby pardon in order" in the June 8 edition of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction:
As this corner has long noted, former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger received no prison time for stealing important national security documents from the National Archives, destroying them, then lying to investigators. The crimes Libby was convicted of -- lying and obstructing justice -- were certainly no more serious than Berger's and arguably much less so. It is debatable whether he lied at all, or simply recalled things differently than news reporters.
As Colorado Media Matters has noted, citing February 21 reporting in The New York Times, the prosecution presented sworn testimony from four government officials that contradicted Libby's testimony that in a conversation on July 10 or 11, 2003, with journalist Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press, it was Russert who informed Libby of Plame's CIA identity. Additionally, Fitzgerald noted in the sentencing memorandum he submitted May 30 that Libby had revealed Plame's CIA identity to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on July 7:
Following Ambassador Wilson's Op Ed in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, Mr. Libby inserted himself even more in the press response to Mr. Wilson. On July 7, he disclosed the information about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment to Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, in what Mr. Fleischer described as a "weird lunch." The next morning, Mr. Libby disclosed the information about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment again to reporter Miller. Mr. Libby provided information about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Wilson on the condition that any attribution disguise him as a "former Hill staffer." Later that week, Mr. Libby confirmed the information about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment to reporter Matt Cooper, who had first learned the information from Karl Rove.
The Daily Sentinel also misrepresented the sentencing memorandum to claim that Fitzgerald urged the judge "to sentence Libby as if he violated federal laws related to the release of former CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to news media":
It's also a travesty that the judge accepted special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's argument to sentence Libby as if he violated federal laws related to the release of former CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to news media.
Contrary to the Daily Sentinel's misrepresentation, Fitzgerald did not argue that Libby should be sentenced as if he had violated federal laws designed to protect the covert identities of intelligence personnel, although he did note that Libby had not shown remorse for his participation in the unauthorized disclosure of Plame's CIA identity:
In this case, as is his right, Mr. Libby maintains that despite his conviction, he is totally innocent. He has expressed no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility, and no recognition that there is anything he should have done differently -- either with respect to his false statements and testimony, or his role in providing reporters with classified information about Ms. Wilson's affiliation with the CIA.
In the conclusion of the memorandum, Fitzgerald reiterated that his sentencing recommendation reflected Libby's subversion of the judicial system in obstructing an important criminal investigation:
Mr. Libby, a high-ranking public official and experienced lawyer, lied repeatedly and blatantly about matters at the heart of a criminal investigation concerning the disclosure of a covert intelligence officer's identity. He has shown no regret for his actions, which significantly impeded the investigation. Mr. Libby's prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system's independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding, or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers. The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.
In light of the foregoing, it is respectfully submitted that Mr. Libby should be sentenced to a term of imprisonment within the applicable range of 30 to 37 months as set forth in a separate memorandum being filed today addressing the sentencing guidelines calculations. It is respectfully submitted that the sentencing range is reasonable and appropriate and that the Court should determine the precise sentence within that range in light of all the factors set forth in Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a).
Finally, the Daily Sentinel falsely asserted that Fitzgerald "declined during trial to even discuss whether Plame was a covert agent":
Fitzgerald clearly knows Libby didn't do that. He didn't charge anyone with violation of federal laws protecting covert agents and declined during trial to even discuss whether Plame was a covert agent. For him to claim now that she was, and that there was "substantial evidence" federal statutes had been violated, is abuse of his prosecutorial authority.
It's unconscionable Fitzgerald was able to enlist a federal judge in his effort to turn Libby into a scapegoat for a crime he couldn't prove. Libby shouldn't go to prison because of it.
As Colorado Media Matters has noted, it was in fact Libby's defense team that on October 30, 2006, filed a motion "to exclude evidence and argument concerning" Plame's employment status. On November 14, 2006, Fitzgerald filed an unsuccessful motion opposing Libby's. Fitzgerald explained that while it would not be necessary to offer evidence of Plame's covert status to pursue the perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Libby, he was prepared to introduce such evidence were the defense team to "open the door" by denying that Plame's status was classified or covert.