The Libby Sentence

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No one knew what would happen to Scooter Libby when we walked into the courthouse this morning. While the government suggested as much as 3 years, as a first time offender and public servant, he could receive as lenient as sentence as probation, or house arrest.

It quickly became clear, however, that Judge Reggie Walton was not in the mood to be gentle. In arguments with the defense counsel as to whether Libby should be held to a higher sentencing standard because of the seriousness of the underlying crime, Walton raised his voice and spoke of CIA agents, like Valerie Plame, who risk their lives for this country.

That was the first bad sign. Then came the defense’s decision to read from the character reference letters written on Libby’s behalf. “I’ve read all the letters,” Walton said, testily. When the defense read from them anyway, Walton looked at the ceiling while the lawyer read, plainly bored, possibly annoyed.

And, indeed, the defense need not have gone through the trouble. After Libby wrapped up his brief plea that the court consider his “whole life,” he and his team started to return to their table, presumably to wait for a recess during which Walton would consider their request for “discretion.”

“I am prepared to proceed,” the judge said, and called them back. If we hadn’t known what kind of sentence he would deliver when we walked in this morning, Reggie Walton did. The judge took his time unspooling his thought, and spoke several times of the difficulty in deciding a sentence for a man who so clearly had devoted his life to public service. But in the end, Walton said, the decision to serve in government means one is held to a higher standard. And so Libby’s sentence, which will certainly be appealed, is on the high end of the guidelines what was expected: 30 months, 250,000 in fines, and 2 years probation after jail.

Walton said that the severity of the sentence stemmed from his feeling that to not hold public officials *more* accountable would cause people to feel “government does not work for them” and “cause them to lose faith in the government.”

As it stands, the one person today who knows the government does not work for him is Scooter Libby.

UPDATE: Thanks to the commenters for flagging some sloppiness on my part: the sentence is NOT the high end of the guidelines, but it is on the high end of what pundits thought was coming — and what the probation office recommended — and I’d guess on the high end of what Scooter thought was coming as well. My colleague Reynolds Holding has more thoughts on federal sentencing guidelines here.

UPDATE: As far the government not “working for” Scooter: All I meant was that his connections didn’t do much for him today. And that’s how it should be.