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No Remorse, No Mercy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 5, 2007; 1:34 PM

Scooter Libby today expressed no remorse, and Judge Reggie B. Walton showed no mercy.

The former vice presidential chief of staff spoke only briefly at his sentencing hearing in federal court today, thanking courtroom personnel for their kindness during his trial and saying: "It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider along with the jury verdict my whole life. Thank you your honor."

Libby's defense team had asked for probation. But Walton sentenced Libby to two and a half years in prison and fined him $250,000. Libby was found guilty in March of obstruction of justice for lying to a federal grand jury and the FBI about his disclosure of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to reporters.

Walton put off another important decision, however. Saying he was not inclined to grant the defense's request that Libby be allowed to remain free on appeal, Walton nevertheless put off his decision until a June 14 hearing.

Ever since Libby was convicted, his supporters have been urging President Bush to grant him a pardon. If Libby remains free on appeal, Bush would probably postpone such a hugely controversial decision, potentially until his last days in office. If Libby is sent to prison, however, that would likely spark an immediate and furious internecine battle within his administration.

Libby has never admitted that he did anything wrong, and his defense team argued in court filings that because special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald had proved no underlying crime in the case, Libby deserved a relatively light sentence. In my Friday column, I wondered whether that wasn't he same as arguing that Libby should be rewarded because his obstruction was successful. Walton apparently agreed.

The judge also poured cold water over defense arguments that some of his legal decisions during the trial had been flawed and would be overturned on appeal. "I think all those opinions are correct," Walton said, according to the invaluable liveblogging by Marcy Wheeler at firedoglake.com.

Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig write for The Washington Post: "'Evidence in this case overwhelmingly indicated Mr. Libby's culpability,' U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said moments before he handed out the sentence. The judge said he was sentencing Libby 'with a sense of sadness. I have the highest respect for people who take positions in our government and appreciate tremendously efforts they bring to bear to protect this country.'

"At the same time, Walton said, 'I also think it is important we expect and demand a lot from people who put themselves in those positions. Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course.' . . .

"'We need just to make the statement the truth matters ever so much,' Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Walton this morning. Fitzgerald also said, 'one's station in life does not matter,' as he argued that Libby does not deserve special consideration because of the public service he has rendered or the high government positions he attained."

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "In support of Libby's bid for probation, many prominent people wrote letters to Walton. Among the letter writers were: former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton."

And Terence Hunt reports for the Associated Press: "President Bush feels 'terrible' for the family of I. Lewis Libby but does not intend to intervene now in the case of the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was sentenced to prison Tuesday, the White House said.

"Bush was informed by aides of Libby's sentencing in Washington two 2 1/2 years in prison after he got on Air Force One Tuesday to fly from the Czech Republic to Germany for the G-8 summit of industrialized nations."

Carol D. Leonnig wrote in The Washington Post this morning about the judge: "Walton, a judge for a quarter-century, is known throughout the defense bar as a 'long-ball hitter' -- a jurist willing to put defendants away for a long time to deter future crimes. . . .

"Walton, 58, was first appointed to a judgeship on the D.C. Superior Court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, served as associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and then in 2001 was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush. In 2004, Bush named Walton to chair a commission investigating ways to curb inmate rape, and last month Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed him to a seat on the respected Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

"Despite his Republican patrons, fellow judges and lawyers who appear before him say Walton's decisions do not appear to be guided by politics but by a tough-on-crime mentality. . . .

"During the case, Walton chided the defense for leading him to believe that Libby would testify in his own defense. But Libby never took the stand."

More tomorrow, of course.

Cold War Watch

President Bush undoubtedly knows how provocative his plan to establish missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic must be to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So simply telling Putin not to worry, as Bush did today, isn't likely to reduce the growing tensions between the United States and Russia. And piously scolding Putin for having derailed democracy probably won't help, either.

Putin's fiery reaction this weekend to the White House's missile plan -- actually threatening to once again point missiles at Europe -- has suddenly shifted the focus of the G8 summit that both Bush and Putin will be attending in Germany this week.

Questions about global warming suddenly seem a bit abstract. More to the point: Will the world make it through this meeting without a return to the Cold War? And how about until Putin and Bush are both out of office?

Who knew, back in June 2001-- when the two leaders first met and Bush said he looked Putin "in the eye" and "was able to get a sense of his soul" -- that six years later, as they both approached the end of their time in office, both men would be so widely mistrusted and disliked, and so at each others' throats?

What Bush Said Today

In a statement with Czech leaders today, Bush discussed the U.S. plan to put tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. He explained:

"One objective is to safeguard free nations from the possibility of a missile attack launched from a rogue regime. That's a true threat to peace. As I've told President Putin, Russia is not our enemy. The enemy of a free society such as ours would be a radical, or extremists, or a rogue regime trying to blackmail the free world in order to promote its ideological objectives. And so my attitude on missile defense is, is that this is a purely -- it's not my attitude, it's the truth -- it's a purely defensive measure, aimed not at Russia, but at true threats.

"And therefore, as the President mentioned, I look forward to having conversations with President Putin, not only at the G8, but in the United States when he comes over. And my message will be, Vladimir -- I call him, Vladimir -- that you shouldn't fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system? Why don't you participate with the United States?"

Then, in a wide-ranging speech about the struggle for freedom, Bush chided Putin: "In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development. Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements. So the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries -- and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values."

David Jackson writes for USA Today that Bush's pro-democracy talk may have only limited resonance because "the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq has placed Bush's democracy initiative in 'disarray,' said Grant Aldonas, a former undersecretary of international trade in the Bush administration.

"'When you travel the world, people react with cynicism when you talk about freedom and democracy at this point,' said Aldonas, who holds a chair in international business with the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington."

The Putin Perspective

Bill Plante reports for CBS News that "the missile defense standoff has set back American relations with Moscow like nothing else in years," and "that no matter how much Mr. Bush tells Putin the defense system is not aimed at Russia, Russia is likely to believe that it is."

What explains Putin's threat to retarget his missiles?

Neil Buckley, Daniel Dombey, Demetri Sevastopulo and Andrew Ward write in the Financial Times: "Mr Putin's comments were the starkest sign yet that Russia had chosen the proposed missile shield as an issue on which to make a stand after 15 years of -- in Moscow's view -- being pushed around by the west.

"Moscow believes it has been forced to swallow a series of western foreign policy actions against its will since the Soviet Union collapsed, including expansion of Nato into former Soviet satellite states, Nato intervention in Kosovo, and agreement to open US military bases in Romania and Bulgaria.

"But with its economy enjoying an oil-fuelled recovery and Mr Putin set on returning Russia to its former position as a global power, it has decided to draw a line in the sand."

Fred Weir writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Even at the height of the cold war, the shouting match between East and West was seldom cranked up to its current level.

"Speaking to reporters in advance of Wednesday's Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday slammed the US for triggering 'a looming arms race' with its plan to install antimissile interceptors in Central and Eastern Europe and warned that Russia might aim a fresh generation of nuclear missiles at 'new targets in Europe.' Last week, Mr. Putin seemed to echo former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev when he hailed a successful Russian ballistic-missile test as a response to American 'imperialism.'

"Some of Washington's recent rhetoric has been similarly rancorous. State Department official David Kramer last week drew up a list of alleged Kremlin offenses, including 'suppression of genuine opposition, abridgement of the right to protest, constriction of civil society, and the decline of media freedom.'

"Behind the chilly exchanges, many experts say, is a growing belief that the West miscalculated nine years ago by inviting Russia to join the G-8, which is widely viewed as the inner sanctum for the leading shapers of global economic policy and political direction."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "Asked about the cold war era of hair-trigger confrontation, Mr. Putin said, 'We are, of course, returning to those times.'

"In fact . . . the countries' relations are at their lowest point since the end of the cold war, and with fears that the deteriorating relationship could rapidly worsen. Even an invitation to the Bush family compound at Kennebunkport, Me., next month appeared to do little to temper Mr. Putin's public remarks. . . .

"'I think there must have been peals of delirious laughter echoing around the ornate chambers of the Kremlin when the invitation to go to Kennebunkport arrived,' said Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Carter. 'Putin has been spitting at the United States for the last year, and what is the reaction? An invitation to a family gathering.' . . .

"This will be Mr. Putin's last G-8 meeting, and it will be Mr. Bush's next to last. As to whether relations can improve, either between the men or their countries, [Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations] responded, 'Look to 2009.'"

No Questions

Mark Silva blogs for Tribune Company that Bush's morning "press conference" actually turned out to be "something rather short of that, as the Czech hosts announced beforehand: 'This press conference is going to be without questions.'"

There were no informal questions either. As pool reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote to her colleagues: "POTUS declined twice to answer questions from the ever-helpful David Gregory of NBC, about whether the US is on the brink of another Cold War. Gregory, spurred on by shorter colleagues who were obscured by aggressive Czech photographers, made two valiant attempts during separate photo ops, but POTUS would not engage."

Poll Watch

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post about the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll: "Disapproval of Bush's performance in office remains high, but the poll highlighted growing disapproval of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Just 39 percent said they approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 44 percent in April, when the new Congress was about 100 days into its term. More significant, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 10 percentage points over that same period, from 54 percent to 44 percent.

"Much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents and liberal Democrats. . . .

"Almost six in 10 Americans said they do not think the additional troops sent to Iraq since the beginning of the year will help restore civil order there, and 53 percent -- a new high in Post-ABC News polls -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States."

Among the other results:

* An all-time high of 55 percent think U.S. military forces should be decreased.

* An all-time high of 53 percent don't think the war with Iraq has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.

* And a staggering 60 percent of American feel they cannot trust the Bush administration to honestly and accurately report intelligence about security threats facing the United States. Wow.

Gitmo Watch

Carol J. Williams and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times: "Military judges threw out war-crimes cases Monday against the only detainees here who have been indicted, in rulings that suggest the hastily reassembled military tribunals have no jurisdiction over any of Guantanamo's 380 prisoners. . . .

"It was the second time in less than a year that the Bush administration's process for bringing terror suspects to justice has failed. An earlier version of the commissions -- created by Bush in November 2001 without congressional participation -- was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last June 29."

Reuters reports: "The White House on Tuesday said it disagreed with rulings by U.S. military judges to drop all war crimes charges against two Guantanamo prisoners facing trial, and that the Defense Department was considering whether to appeal.

"'We don't agree with the ruling on the military commissions,' White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters in Prague where President George W. Bush is meeting with leaders of the Czech Republic."

Supreme Court Watch

Jan Crawford Greenburg reports for ABC News: 'The White House is developing a short list of possible Supreme Court nominees so President Bush can move swiftly if a justice retires at the end of June, when the Court breaks for its summer recess, according to sources involved in the selection process.

"Bush met with top advisers last month, and they discussed possible nominees if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs.

"He told White House Counsel Fred Fielding and other administration lawyers that he wanted to nominate a woman or a minority to the Court, and his legal team has narrowed its focus to a half-dozen contenders, sources said."

Among the possibilities, "federal appeals court Judges Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. Both were filibustered by Senate Democrats after Bush nominated them as appellate judges and were eventually confirmed after Senate leaders struck a compromise on judicial nominations.

"Either could have been a likely replacement for [Sandra Day] O'Connor in 2005, but leading Senate Republicans told the White House not to nominate them because they were seen as too controversial at the time. Now that both are on the federal bench, the White House has put them back on a working short list."

Rove and Alabama

Adam Zagorin writes in Time: "In the rough and tumble of Alabama politics, the scramble for power is often a blood sport. At the moment, the state's former Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, stands convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges and faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Siegelman has long claimed that his prosecution was driven by politically motivated, Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys.

"Now Karl Rove, the President's top political strategist, has been implicated in the controversy. A longtime Republican lawyer in Alabama swears she heard a top G.O.P. operative in the state say that Rove 'had spoken with the Department of Justice' about 'pursuing' Siegelman, with help from two of Alabama's U.S. attorneys."

Indecency Watch

Stephen Labaton writes for the New York Times: "If President Bush and Vice President Cheney can blurt out vulgar language, then the government cannot punish broadcast television stations for broadcasting the same words in similarly fleeting contexts.

"That, in essence, was the decision on Monday, when a federal appeals panel struck down the government policy that allows stations and networks to be fined if they broadcast shows containing obscene language....

"Adopting an argument made by lawyers for NBC, the judges then cited examples in which Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney had used the same language that would be penalized under the policy. Mr. Bush was caught on videotape last July using a common vulgarity that the commission finds objectionable in a conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Three years ago, Mr. Cheney was widely reported to have muttered an angry obscene version of 'get lost' to Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate."

Live Online

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Cartoon Watch

Ben Sargent and John Sherffius on Cheney's visitors.

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