WASHINGTON – I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will be sentenced in June for his conviction in the case relating to the leak of a CIA operative's name, but the White House is already playing down questions about whether the former aide will be pardoned.
"We never comment on pardons," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday. He added that the case remains under legal review so all the talk is premature.
"All of this conversation, speculation about a pardon makes for interesting speculation, but it's just that. ... As we pointed out before, there is a process and it's available to anybody who has been convicted in the United States," Snow said.
A pardon would not be unusual. In 1992 former President George H.W. Bush pardoned several former Reagan administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who were all caught up in the scandal that grew out of arms sales to Iran and the diversion of proceeds to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Snow said Bush, who has been less generous than other presidents in this regard, is cautious about giving pardons, but he takes the process very seriously.
"He wants to make sure that in his judgment anybody who receives one, that it is warranted, but again I would caution against any speculation in this case," Snow said.
But Democrats are already warning President Bush that a pardon is unacceptable for the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was found guilty Tuesday of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI about his role in revealing the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame to reporters.
Wilson became a vocal critic of the Bush administration for using bad intelligence to justify the attack on Iraq. Libby and others, including Bush aide Karl Rove, were implicated for trying to out Plame in retaliation for Wilson's criticism.
Libby was the only person charged in relation to the leak, though the verdict related to his lying to officials about conversations he had with reporters, not with illegally revealing Plame's name to members of the Washington press corps.
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Tuesday that it was clear that Plame was working undercover while employed for the CIA, but no more charges are coming in this case.
"I would not expect to see any further charges filed, we are all going back to our day jobs. If new information comes to light, if new information comes to us that would warrant us taking some action, we look forward to doing that. But I would not create the expectation that any of us will be doing further investigation at this point, we see the investigation as inactive," he said.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, an administration member who opposed the war, was the first to leak Plame's name to the media. But neither Armitage nor anyone else was charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which punishes those who out secret agents.
Though the jury believed Libby was guilty — and conviction means he faces up to 25 years in prison — juror Denis Collins said that the group thought Libby took the fall for others higher up in the administration.
"I can only say that three or four times during this trial, someone in the jury would say, 'What are we doing here? Why are we dealing with Libby? Where are the other guys?' — and we had heard testimony that it was Armitage and Karl Rove who made the initial leak to — one, to Bob Woodward at The Washington Post," Collins told ABC's "Good Morning America." .
Another juror, Jeff Comer, said he can only recall that idea coming up once.
Collins added that the jury's ruling shouldn't be seen as more than it was.
"There was a frustration that we were trying someone for telling a lie apparently about an event that never became important enough to file charges anywhere else," he said. "I would hope that the message sent by this jury shouldn't be that big a message."
That, however, is not the way it has played in many circles. Democrats have used the conviction to argue that the administration manipulated intelligence to make its case for war and then discredited anyone who questioned its plans.
"This verdict brings accountability at last for official deception and the politics of smear and fear," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said. "This trial revealed a no-holds barred White House attack machine aimed at anyone who stood in the way of their march to war with Iraq. It is time for President Bush to live up to his own promises and hold accountable anyone else who participated in this smear. It is also well past time for Vice President Cheney, who according to the testimony was protected by Scooter Libby's lies, to finally acknowledge his role in this sordid episode."
Presidential candidate for 2008 John Edwards, who has apologized for voting to go to war in Iraq, said, "The American people deserve to know if Mr. Libby has been made a scapegoat in order to protect anyone else."
Wilson appeared on several news programs saying that he and his wife will pursue their civil suit against the administration. He added in a press conference that he wants to know the role of other administration officials.
"I believe Mr. Rove was involved up to his eyeballs. That became clear when it was made public that Mr. Rove was, in fact, the source of the compromising of my wife's identity to Matt Cooper. ... I do believe that, now that this trial is over, that the president and the vice president owe the country a much broader explanation of their own actions at this time," Wilson said.
Libby's lawyers have promised to ask for a new trial and said they'll ask that Libby remain free while any appeals are fought. Libby's defense team has begun reviewing the month-long trial and preparing the request for a new one, a common request among defense attorneys that's not often granted. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton had made several rulings in the case over the objection of defense attorneys.
For instance, Fitzgerald was allowed to show jurors newspaper articles that defense lawyers considered inaccurate and inflammatory. Defense attorneys were not permitted to question NBC reporters Tim Russert or Andrea Mitchell about televised statements they made outside of court. And Walton curtailed the use of classified information after Libby decided not to testify.
"We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated," defense attorney Theodore Wells said. He said Libby was "totally innocent and that he did not do anything wrong."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.