'Scooter' Libby Rushes to Delay Prison Sentence in CIA Leak Case

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby will soon receive an inmate number, a prison assignment and a date to surrender. Before that date draws near, however, the former White House aide hopes an appeals court will step in and block his 2 1/2-year sentence.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lost a court fight Thursday that would have put his prison term on hold until his appeals have run out. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton was never persuaded that Libby deserved a delay.

Walton cited the "overwhelming" evidence that Libby lied to investigators and obstructed Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry into the 2003 leak of a CIA operative's identity.

Now, Libby's lawyers are on the clock. The former aide has about six to eight weeks before his expected surrender date. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the next stop, with a possible rush to the Supreme Court to follow.

President Bush, too, is watching the clock. Libby's supporters have called for a pardon but Bush has said he wants to stay out of the case until it has run its course. Without a delay, however, Bush will have to decide whether to pardon the former aide or let him go to prison.

"Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday. "The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife and their young children, and all that they're going through."

Libby is the highest-ranking White House official to be sent to prison since the Iran-Contra affair. He was convicted of lying about his conversations with reporters regarding Valerie Plame, the wife of an outspoken war critic, who worked for the CIA.

To win a delay, Libby will have to persuade a higher court that he has a good chance of overturning his conviction on appeal.