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Vice President Dick Cheney’s Former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby, Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison

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Libby was sentenced for lying to federal prosecutors about his role in the CIA leak case. As President Bush refuses to rule out pardoning Libby, we speak to investigative journalist Murray Waas, who has just published the new book “United States v. I. Lewis Libby.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to federal prosecutors about his role in the CIA leak case. A jury convicted Libby in March on four felony counts of making false statements to the FBI, lying to a grand jury and obstructing a probe into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. Administration officials outed Plame after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, publicly challenged the Bush administration’s case for going to war with Iraq.

Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal nearly two decades ago. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton handed down the sentence and a $250,000 fine. An appeal hearing has been set for next week, but Judge Walton says he’s unlikely to reverse his decision. Libby could wind up in jail by the end of next month.

The ruling immediately put the spotlight on President Bush. The president has not ruled out granting Libby a pardon. At their debate in New Hampshire, four Republican presidential candidates said they would not pardon Libby. The leading candidates — Arizona Senator John McCain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — said they would consider a pardon if elected.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Joe and Valerie Wilson said they are grateful “justice has been served.” They go on to say, “That [Libby] would knowingly lie, perjure himself and obstruct a legitimate criminal investigation is incomprehensible. It is our hope that he will now cooperate with Special Counsel Fitzgerald in his efforts to get to the truth. As Mr. Fitzgerald has said, a cloud remains over the Vice President. Every official in this administration must be held accountable for their actions,” they wrote.

Murray Waas is a veteran investigative reporter. He’s with the National Journal. He has covered the Libby case extensively. He has just come out with a new book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby. Late yesterday, I spoke to Murray Waas in Washington, D.C., to get his reaction to the Libby sentencing.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I think the judge today sent out what he thought was a strong message with a tough sentence. It was a little extraordinary that he sentenced Scooter Libby to a term of incarceration much, much longer than the probation office recommended and sided with the prosecutor. So we’ve now heard the jury render a verdict, and now we’ve heard the judge mete out his sentencing, and with it, a message, I think, I believe.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think that message is?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, Judge Walton, the judge, is kind of an interesting guy, because he’s a conservative Republican, or he was before he was on the bench. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan. He had been a drug czar official in the Reagan administration. And you could kind of sense during the trial, but you found out today, because of the long sentence he gave Libby, that — and from his comments and from his response to the special prosecutor’s comments, Pat Fitzgerald, that government officials can’t lie with impunity to a grand jury, they can’t lie to the FBI, and they can’t obstruct justice.

There were four convictions for obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to investigators. And the argument seemed, in part, to be that because of his government service, he shouldn’t serve any time, and Judge Walton disagreed with that, said no to that, and did practically just the opposite. In effect, I think the news today was that he tried to send not only the defendant a message, but he wanted to send the people in government or other people who are thinking of doing what Scooter Libby did a message: Don’t do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you go through for us again, Murray, why you think what Scooter Libby did was so egregious? Go through. Start from the beginning.

MURRAY WAAS: I don’t want to say I think it’s egregious, but I’ll tell you, he was convicted by a jury, and he was sentenced today by the judge — pending appeal, of course — but what he was accused of doing was lying to the FBI, lying to — committing perjury before a grand jury and obstructing justice to cover up his role and also the role of perhaps others, including Vice President Cheney, in leaking the name and leaking information about the covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. And essentially, the trial showed — and what the jury found is that he engaged in those actions to cover up his role and other people in the Bush administration in leaking Plame’s name. And so, that, I guess, is at the core of what the case was about.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in the introduction to the court transcript in the book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, the last compartment. Talk about late in the morning of July 12, 2003, Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby together in Virginia and exactly what transpired, as you understand it.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, on July 12th, the vice president, Scooter Libby, they were involved in this damage control effort to discredit Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame’s husband. Joe Wilson was an ambassador who had made claims that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence to go to war, and Joe Wilson went to the African country of Niger to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium to build an atomic weapon. And Wilson came back and found that that wasn’t the case, but that intelligence information still ended up being cited again and again, and including in the president’s State of the Union speech, to make the case to go to war. So on July 12th, they’re involved in an effort to discredit Wilson, to blunt his allegations. They’re working actively in a damage control mood. They’re pressuring the director — the then-director of the CIA, George Tenet, to take blame, to kind of fall on the sword, in effect. And Scooter Libby and Vice President Cheney and their families go to the Norfolk Naval Base to christen the USS Reagan, and on the way home they discuss at length how to control the scandal.

And so, the vice president and Scooter Libby sit alone, and it’s kind of — so it’s figured — they sit alone in a compartment in the plane, and it’s kind of literally a compartment of the plane, but it’s also figuratively a compartment of the plane, where only Scooter Libby and only Dick Cheney will know 'til the end of time what transpired between them. But essentially what happens is the vice president dictates to Scooter Libby talking points, things he wants Libby to say to reporters to discredit Wilson and to make the administration look good. The only thing that Scooter Libby doesn't admit —- Scooter Libby, when he gets off the plane, then calls reporters, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judy Miller, and tells them about Plame’s covert CIA status. So everything else that Scooter Libby told Matt Cooper, everything he told Judy Miller, those things were things that Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby agreed that Dick Cheney told him to say. But on the issue of Valerie Plame -—

AMY GOODMAN: And you know about those talking points — Murray, you know about the talking points that Cheney dictated, because…?

MURRAY WAAS: Because they’re, in effect, a public record now, because during the trial they were entered into evidence. And so, the vice president was actively — before July 12th, he was instructing Scooter Libby to talk to specific reporters, to provide them with specific information. Vice President Cheney was involved — was in charge of the effort, in effect, and Scooter Libby, as his aide, was carrying out, to a large degree, what the vice president wanted done.

The only thing that went beyond, purportedly, the vice president would say what he wanted done was the naming of Valerie Plame, but everything else he wanted done. So I guess at the end of the day what’s interesting is, after being directed to talk to specific reporters, after being directed to tell them specific things, Scooter Libby also tells them about Valerie Plame. But according to Scooter Libby, everybody is lying, and he didn’t tell them about Valerie Plame in the way that he did. And according to Libby and the vice president, they didn’t collude to do that. So it’s just that one little fact, which all of the sudden Scooter Libby, who’s the loyal staff man who’s taking orders from the vice president, who’s doing exactly what he says, veers off and acts like a freelancer and a loose cannon.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, investigative reporter, author of the new book, The United States v. I. Scooter Libby. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with investigative reporter Murray Waas and the sentencing of Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. I asked Murray what Libby’s jail sentence could mean for Vice President Dick Cheney and also, well, President Bush’s top deputy, Karl Rove.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, for Vice President Cheney, I think it’s a serious blow to his legacy, his vice presidency. It’s always going to raise questions. Dick Cheney wasn’t in the dock. Dick Cheney wasn’t charged, but the trial transcript and the exhibits, the comments by the prosecutor, the strong statement implicitly made in the sentencing by the judge, all, I think, are going to point to an historical record or perhaps an historical judgment that is not going to, you know, bear well for the vice president.

AMY GOODMAN: And Karl Rove?

MURRAY WAAS: Karl Rove wasn’t charged in this case. He was under suspicion. Some of the grand jurors were surprised when Pat Fitzgerald didn’t ask for an indictment in the case. But at the end of the day, I think from a legal vantage point, the fact that he didn’t get charged, he should be given the benefit of the doubt he didn’t do anything wrong, you know, in a criminal — criminally. Like the inference, just because he appeared before a grand jury doesn’t mean that people should think he did something criminal. The judgment — there is other judgments that people can or can’t make if they want to about his role in outing Valerie Plame and giving her name out, and again, those go beyond the legal system and, you know, will be kind of more judgments for history or judgments that people are entitled to have now, obviously.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s deputy at the State Department, was the first to leak Valerie Plame’s CIA identity, and he did it to Bob Woodward. Why wasn’t he indicted?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I don’t think there was intent, and there’s a difference. Scooter Libby was charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to investigators about what he did. Richard Armitage owned up to what he did. As soon as he realized what happened, he went to the prosecutor. There was testimony. He didn’t even have a lawyer. He just went in, sat down, told him what happened. Apparently, he gossiped the information away. He didn’t have any intent, or there’s no evidence of intent to smear Joe Wilson, to damage Valerie Plame.

A lot of Scooter Libby’s defenders have said, “Look, look at Armitage. He’s the guy who started it all. Scooter Libby was in at the end.” But the effort to out Valerie Plame, the effort to name her, the discussions in the White House went on earlier than Dick Armitage gave the name to Bob Woodward. So, it’s kind of a red herring. A lot of people have suggested that because Armitage did it, what Libby did wasn’t so wrong. But the effort was already underway, organized to give out the name, and Dick Armitage was just another kind of person involved, but not working in concert with Scooter Libby or Karl Rove.

AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

MURRAY WAAS: He was not involved in any way in outing Valerie Plame.

AMY GOODMAN: And what the bigger picture was, the context of all of this, and what this meant for the war in Iraq?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I think the broader context is what happened when this was going on. The war had seemed to be going well to that point, but we were having the first indications of an insurgency. We were also having the first indications that there was difficulty in finding any weapons of mass destruction. You know, the major pretext for war had been there was biological, chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein was developing, that he was attempting to build a nuclear weapon. And so, as the inspectors weren’t finding anything and people in the White House were a little surprised or upset or feeling defensive about that, Joe Wilson was kind of really the first person to go out and make a public claim that the Bush administration had lied about the intelligence to make the case to go to war. And so, combined with the pressure of actually not finding the weapons of mass destruction, there was this, you know, intense sensitivity at the White House and intense anger obviously to Wilson, and they wanted to, you know, blunt his criticism and discredit him. And so, that’s the context that this occurred, that the Valerie Plame thing occurred in, the broader context.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, we’re talking to investigative reporter Murray Waas. So you have Scooter Libby sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail. What about the big question, what could happen, the possibility of a pardon? What do you see?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, the key issue is going to be whether he is remanded to custody in the next couple weeks. Judge Walton has asked the probation officer to do a report. If Judge Walton allows Scooter Libby to remain free upon pending an appeal, that means that he won’t serve any prison time until about the time President Bush is done with his presidency. So, it would be much easier — presidents have — President Bush, President Ford — presidents have traditionally done pardons — well, I’m sorry, I’m mistaken about President Ford, but President Bush did last-minute pardons for Iran-Contra figures. So the idea — I think the conventional wisdom is that President Bush would pardon Scooter Libby in the final weeks of his presidency, after the 2008 election was through. But if he was remanded to custody sooner, immediately, either that would — and the President wanted to pardon him — he would have to pardon him now, and the political implications would be immediate. So it would be much more — it would be interesting, because it would be much more difficult politically and public opinion-wise for the president to pardon Scooter Libby now versus like in the final days of his administration.

And so, we won’t know for a little bit whether Scooter Libby will be sent to prison now or be free for most of the rest of the last year and some months of the president’s administration. And Judge Walton indicated today, from comments that he made, that he’s predisposed to actually incarcerate Scooter Libby, you know, sooner rather than later, but it’s still a judgment and still a decision that he hasn’t completely made. So we don’t know how that’s going to end up.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray, you wrote a piece recently on a wholly different issue. It was a piece in The Huffington Post called “The Ninth Man Out: A Fired U.S. Attorney Tells His Story.” Can you tell us about the significance of this, and this, of course, in the context of Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general?

MURRAY WAAS: Yeah, the story, the piece, was about Todd Graves, who now is the ninth U.S. attorney, we’ve learned, that the Bush administration ordered to resign or fired. Todd Graves was actually the first of all of the U.S. attorneys to be fired, but he’s kind of referred to as the ninth man out, because Todd Graves was very shy and reluctant about talking about having been fired. So we’ve learned about him as the last example. There might be more than nine, but right now he’s the last one we’ve learned about, but the actual first one that was fired.

And he, actually today, actually as we’re speaking, he’s testifying before Congress, and the guy who replaced him, who was a senior official in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, who disagreed with Todd Graves and was pushing him to make voter fraud cases, he’s testifying, as well, today. So —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell us his story. Tell us about this U.S. attorney, the story you tell about cancer, about chemotherapy, about corporate fraud.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, he was a real compelling figure to me. He prosecuted one of the worst medical fraud cases in this country’s history, in the sense of the heinous nature of the crime. He prosecuted a pharmacist named Robert Courtney, who diluted and watered down 4,000 chemotherapy prescriptions for more than 4,000 cancer patients, and the pharmacist also watered down, as best they could determine, 98 different prescriptions for all kinds of people with different types of cancer. Undoubtedly, numbers of people lost their lives. Lives were cut short. The devastation that this one person cost is just — on the community around Kansas City and a community where his pharmacy was is almost unspeakable. So Todd Graves was the U.S. attorney in charge of that case.

And what was so compelling about having an interview with him is what was kind of unknown to the public or what was — if it was known to the public, it wasn’t played up, was the fact that when Todd Graves prosecuted that case, in his own past when he was 21 years old and in college, he was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, not given very much of a chance to live at all, was told at the age of 21 to wrap up his affairs and put his affairs in order. And somehow he survived and has had a great life since. And he might have survived, or it’s likely he survived, because he had some really toxic, awful, painful, difficult chemotherapy, that he described to me as just — you know, he would be in pain. He would have this for 26 hours straight. He couldn’t sleep or eat. He would just be in pain. And so, he knew — so what was interesting and compelling is this U.S. attorney knew firsthand that chemotherapy is very important to cancer patients, because when he was 21 years old, he was a cancer patient on chemo.

And so, he never has really talked about this at length with a reporter before, and I was able to get him to open up and kind of tell this extraordinary story. And one of the reasons he didn’t want to talk about it previously was because he thought the focus would be on him, instead of the criminal and the crime victims, and people might think he was overzealous, and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: The pharmacist, Robert Courtney, worth close to $19 million, owning two mansions in Kansas City, just outside of it, and a condominium in St. Croix. When he was sentenced, what happened to the money?

MURRAY WAAS: The money went to — well, he had a fight with people in the Department of Justice. He wanted to give the money to the victims. They wanted to return the money to the United States Treasury. Again, he was kind of afraid that he would be seen, because of his personal experience, of being overzealous, but he stuck to his guns. He fought the bureaucracy, and ultimately he accomplished what he wanted to do, which was use the — I think it was $17 million or $18 million that they actually found and confiscated, and was able to return that to the victims, instead of just giving it to some general fund of the Treasury. But, again, as you point out the amount of money, that huge amount of money, $18 million, $19 million, was the profit of watering down chemotherapy and watering down other — he also watered down other types of drugs, like insulin for diabetics, or all these people who thought they were getting their prescriptions from their druggist were getting sugar water in a lot of instances.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, a final subject that you’ve taken on, where in the heat of the presidential race — yes, even a year and a half before the race will take place, the actual election will take place — and you’ve looked at one of the Republican candidates, the Arkansas Governor Huckabee.

MURRAY WAAS: Governor Huckabee.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Governor Huckabee?

MURRAY WAAS: Yeah. I had done a piece a few years back about Governor Huckabee. He had lobbied his parole board or pressured his parole board to release a convicted rapist, and originally he had decided he was going to pardon this guy, but the public outcry was so great that he had to kind of back off. So he still wanted him — he still thought the guy was deserving of leaving jail. And so, to kind of take his —- to make sure his fingerprints weren’t on the act or to not take the heat for the pardon, he went and he lobbied one on one or in groups their parole board members -—

AMY GOODMAN: To free Wayne Dumont.

MURRAY WAAS: — to instead free this guy, Wayne Dumont, who then, shortly thereafter, after he was let out of prison, just in the most violent rape and the most violent murders, just raped and murdered two young women. I believe one was 19, and one was 23. And he, Governor Huckabee, refuses to talk about his reasons for the pardon. He refuses to answer specific questions. Tim Russert asked him on Meet the Press, asked him a couple of questions about it, read a couple questions from my story, but the format of Meet the Press is such that, you know, it moves on so quickly he wasn’t really able to press him for answers. So Governor Huckabee is still — he’s running for the presidency and still refuses to answer any questions about why he made this decision or how he came to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Calling you a tabloid reporter.

MURRAY WAAS: I think he made that comment, but you wouldn’t agree with that, would you?

AMY GOODMAN: Why did he care about Wayne Dumont?

MURRAY WAAS: We’re not entirely sure. One thing that’s pretty interesting is that the right-wing press and a lot of the right-wing media were writing stories that the rapist, this guy Wayne Dumont, was in jail unfairly or had been framed, because the rape victim was a relative of Bill Clinton’s or a distant cousin, which actually turned out pretty much not to be true. The relationship is so distant they maybe met each other once or twice, but it made good copy, so — it made good copy to bash Bill Clinton and blame him for something else.

And so, there was one columnist in particular for the New York Post who Governor Huckabee liked to read, named Steve Dunleavy, and Steve Dunleavy wrote a series of columns saying that this guy Wayne Dumont, the rapist, was a war hero, when in fact he wasn’t a war hero, but he was kicked out of the military with a dishonorable discharge. This guy Steve Dunleavy said that the rapist was cleared by DNA evidence, which is a complete falsehood. They didn’t have DNA evidence at the time. There was no DNA evidence in the case or later. So, apparently, we might — some of this might have been caused by just erroneous, irresponsible press coverage, where journalists might — you know, you can blame the governor. The governor should have relied on the court records and done his homework, instead of reading the New York Post.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question, Murray, and this goes back to the top story, and that is Scooter Libby getting a sentence of two-and-a-half years, quarter-million-dollar fine: What now happens to Valerie Plame? What happens to her lawsuit that she has against him?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I think the civil suit — the civil suit can proceed when the criminal stuff is over. So I think what it does, I think the thing that happens today, or perhaps it starts, pending the appeal, is that they can then proceed with that civil suit. And, you know, it’s very rare to bring a civil suit against the vice president. The only kind of similar thing I can think of is the Paula Jones case against President Clinton, so we’re into uncharted territory. But it seems like it’s a much more substantial case or much more serious case than the Paula Jones case. So we’ve seen the Paula Jones case proceed, so we assume this will go ahead, too. And the civil case should be a vast source of information, discovery of new information, and perhaps the historical record will get straight, as, you know, more information about what happened comes out.

AMY GOODMAN: Could it lead to a parallel criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney?

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I think that Fitzgerald is pretty much — his hands are tied beyond what happened today, absent Scooter Libby making a deal and testifying against any other official of the administration. But what’s interesting is what Ken Starr did, was look at erroneous, well, supposedly false statements for perjury, alleged perjury by President Clinton in the Paula Jones case. So, by having a vast civil record, by having days and days of sworn testimony and officials on the record, including perhaps the vice president, it does open the possibility that those statements could be scrutinized by Pat Fitzgerald in the future or whoever else would have, you know, jurisdiction in case he wasn’t still in government at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Bush, is he touched by any of this?

MURRAY WAAS: President Bush is — there’s no information that he was involved in directing anyone or knew about the outing of Valerie Plame. One thing he did, though, which I wrote about, is he more broadly put Vice President Cheney in charge of the effort. After Cheney had complained that the White House was doing an inadequate job, he put him in charge of the effort to do the damage control about the Wilson column and the WMD issue, in general. But it would be unfair to say that because President Bush directed Cheney to lead that broader effort, that he knew anything much about Valerie Plame.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigator reporter Murray Waas has edited the new book, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby.

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