President Donald Trump pardoned Lewis “Scooter” Libby Friday, who was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to investigators in connection with the Valerie Plame affair in 2007.
Here are the two things you need to know about his conviction.
Libby served in the George W. Bush White House as assistant to the president and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2001 to 2005. He departed the administration under suspicion he had revealed that Valerie Plame, the wife of dogged Bush-critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA operative. Wilson wrote an incendiary column in The New York Times in July 2003, raising the prospect that the administration had “manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq.” The leak, critics said, was meant to silence one of the early critics of a controversial war.
Though the Plame affair no longer features prominently in histories of the Bush presidency, innuendo in the press and a special counsel investigation subsumed much of the administration.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in prison, assessed a $250,000 fine against him, and required him to perform 400 hours of community service. He also lost his law license, though it was restored in November 2016. Bush commuted his prison sentence, though the other elements of the sentence stood.
1.) Judith Miller — the key witness — recanted her testimony against him
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald pursued an obstruction of justice case against Libby, alleging he made false and misleading statements to FBI agents and a federal grand jury concerning how he first came to learn of Plame’s status as an agency employee.
Libby initially told investigators that he learned of Plame’s CIA affiliation during a telephone call on July 10, 2003 with Tim Russert, who anchored “Meet the Press” for NBC News. Russert testified that, as best he could recall, he and Libby never discussed Plame’s agency status prior to Novak’s disclosure.
To prove Libby was aware of Plame’s status before July 10, Fitzgerald called New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify about her conversations with Libby in the early months of 2003. Miller testified that Libby discussed Plame’s agency affiliation with her prior to July 10. If true, this would indicate that Libby made false statements to the FBI and a grand jury. Fitzgerald himself insisted this testimony was crucial to the conviction in his closing arguments to the jury.
As time has elapsed, Miller concluded she could no longer confirm the veracity of her testimony.
In her 2015 memoir, “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” Miller wrote that she now believes her statements — essential to convicting Libby — were unsound, and that Fitzgerald coaxed her into making inaccurate statements under oath.
Her testimony emanates from notes she generated during interviews with Libby which, though ambiguous, could be read as revealing that Plame was a CIA operative. The most important statement, which appears in brackets, reads “wife works in Bureau?”
Miller wrote that she could not remember what exactly the statement referred to, but Fitzgerald convinced her that this remark indicated Libby leaked Plame’s identity to her. Miller went on to testify to this effect.
She no longer stands by that testimony, and wonders if Libby was the victim of an unfair prosecution.
“Rereading those elliptical references and integrating them with what I had learned since the trial and with the information about Plame’s cover that Fitzgerald had withheld, it was hard not to conclude that my testimony had been wrong,” she wrote. “Had I helped to convict an innocent man?”
With Tim Russert’s passing in 2008, the principle witnesses against Libby are now either deceased or unsure that the testimony they relayed was accurate.
She also suggested former Vice President Dick Cheney was Fitzgerald’s actual target. In the same memoir, she revealed one of Libby’s lawyers, Joseph Tate, had twice told her the special counsel was in hot pursuit of the VP.
“Fitzgerald had twice offered to drop all charges against Libby, if his client would agree to ‘deliver’ Cheney to him,” she wrote.
2.) Richard Armitage, the man who actually leaked Plame’s identity, was never prosecuted
Plame’s identity as a CIA agent first appeared in Robert Novak’s July 14, 2003 column in The Washington Post. Novak’s source was not Libby, but deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Both Novak and Armitage have acknowledged Armitage first disclosed Plame’s status with the agency.
Armitage insisted the revelation was inadvertent and was not made with malicious intent, though Novak disputed this characterization.
Another Washington Post columnist, Bob Woodward, said Armitage divulged Plame’s affiliation to him nearly a month before the information was printed in Novak’s column. Woodward testified as a defense witness during Libby’s criminal trial.
He did not speak publicly about his role in the affair until 2006.
Though the Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it unlawful to reveal the identity of CIA agents, Armitage was never prosecuted. He resigned his post at the U.S. Department of State in 2004. Armitage believes his candor and cooperation with investigators help him escape criminal prosecution.
Libby was the only person ever to stand trial in connection with the Plame affair.
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