Commentary Magazine


Was Scooter’s Sentence Too Light?

Judge Reggie Walton has sentenced Scooter Libby to 2 1/2 years in prison. In calculating this term, Walton relied on federal guidelines, which give him latitude. He also weighed letters, pro and con, written to the court by dozens of people. Many of them are friends of Libby, some of them are individuals who had encountered Libby in the course of their lives, and others are ordinary citizens. Almost all of the letters call for Walton to show leniency. A handful, going in the other direction, call for throwing the book at Libby. Those are the ones the judge chose to follow.

The letters in favor of leniency stress Libby’s long and distinguished career in public service, his dedication and goodwill toward subordinates and colleagues, his love of children. Some of these letters are self-aggrandizing. But most of them are poignant portraits of sides of Libby that the public has never seen. That is especially true of those written by low-level employees, like the chief steward on Air Force Two and a White House photographer, both of whom emphasize the simple human kindness that the Vice President’s chief of staff showed to them.

The letters calling for a harsh prison sentence are something else again. One such correspondent writes: “I would prefer to see Mr. Rove or Vice President Cheney behind bars so, in a sense, Mr. Libby is their proxy. He was the puppet but they pulled the strings.” The writer signs his missive, “an angry citizen,” but declines to provide his name, saying of the Bush administration, “I don’t use my name because I don’t trust them, either.”

Another such letter, handwritten and signed with a scrawl, reads: “I strongly implore you to putScooter’ in jail”—underlining those three italicized words. Yet another correspondent writes that Libby “has committed some of the most serious offense against our country in its entire 231 year history. . . . I believe he is also guilty of, although he hasn’t been tried for, helping the enemies of the United States, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda Afghanistan/Pakistan escape justice through his lies.” A former federal prosecutor goes even further: “In its ultimate effects on the security of the United States, is what was done here [by Libby] really that different from what was done by [convicted spies] Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard, and Robert Hanssen?”

Although nicely printed, and not drawn in a scrawl, a New York Times editorial today joins with the ranters, calling Libby’s sentence “an appropriate—indeed necessary—punishment for his repeated lies to a grand jury and to FBI agents investigating a possible smear campaign orchestrated by the White House.” Considering that the Times itself has trampled on U.S. laws governing secrecy—something that Libby has never been accused of by a court of law—the newspaper’s participation in this chorus of half-witted haters, though not unexpected, is all the more revolting.