By Matt Apuzzo Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby is no longer appealing his conviction in the CIA leak case, a tacit recognition that continuing his legal fight might only make things worse.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction but President Bush commuted his 30-month prison sentence in July. Had Libby won a new trial, that commutation would be meaningless and Libby would again face potential prison time.
“We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby’s innocence,” attorney Theodore Wells said Monday. “However, the realities were, that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear.”
Libby, 57, was convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. He was the only person to face criminal charges in the case.
After Bush’s commutation, Libby paid a $250,000 fine and remained on two years probation. There was no guarantee Libby would do any better if he persuaded an appeals court to grant a new trial. In fact, by the time that new trial was over, Bush would likely be out of office and the result of that trial would almost certainly stick.
“The appeal would lead only to a retrial,” Wells said, “a process that would last even beyond the two years of supervised release, cost millions of dollars more than the fine he has already paid, and entail many more hundreds of hours preparing for an all-consuming appeal and retrial.”
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had no comment Monday and has said the leak investigation is closed.
The decision to withdraw his appeal means Libby will remain a convicted felon. President Bush could wipe away the conviction with a full pardon, something he has refused to rule out. Wells said Monday that he has not spoken to the White House about a pardon and does not know what Bush will do.
Another of Libby’s attorneys, William Jeffress, has said Libby deserves a pardon.
The Bush White House has refused to comment on unresolved questions in the Libby case — such as why no White House staff member was ever reprimanded — on the grounds that the appeals process was still unfolding. Now that argument is moot, as Libby has dropped his appeal.
Still, the White House had no direct comment on Libby’s decision, or his chance of getting a presidential pardon.
“We never comment on whether or not the president will be granting or not granting pardons to anybody,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “If he chooses to pursue a pardon, there’s that route, and of course, the Constitution provides the president the powers of pardon, and we just cannot speculate,” she said.
She said she had not talked with the president about Libby’s decision on the appeal and could not characterize the president’s current views about the propriety of White House employees’ involvement in the case.
Both Cheney and Bush have spoken fondly of Libby and have expressed sadness at the toll the case has taken on his family. Libby and his wife have two school-age children, a son and a daughter.
Libby was the only person charged in the investigation into the leak of Plame’s identity. Nobody was charged with the leak itself, which Plame alleges was politically motivated. Her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s war policy.
Plame sued Libby and other members of the Bush administration over the leak, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
“By dropping his appeal, Mr. Libby has finally abandoned the pretense that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice,” Wilson said in a statement Monday.
Associated Press Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.