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Libby must spend appeals process in prison

A federal judge ruled Thursday morning that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s prison term should not be delayed, dashing the former White House aide’s hope of spending the appeals process in freedom.

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The decision of Judge Reggie B. Walton increases the pressure on President Bush to pardon Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff. Libby was sentenced last week to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators.

Libby will now wait for the Department of Corrections to find a spot for him in prison, a process that could take six to eight weeks, according to a court official.

The 30-month sentence was harsher than federal sentencing guidelines that recommend 15 to 20 months for similar crimes, with a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Lead prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had requested a sentence of up to 37 months due to the severity of the crimes.

Defense attorneys failed to sway Walton with arguments that Fitzgerald enjoyed too much power in his investigation of Libby.

Defense attorney Larry Robbins argued that Fitzgerald was immune from replacement and that his exemption from providing updates to his superiors marred the proceedings.

The prosecution characterized this as an “eleventh-hour, desperate attempt” to question Fitzgerald’s propriety.

The defense had also submitted an opinion by 12 law professors suggesting a lighter sentence for Libby, and Watson voiced some displeasure with this tactic Thursday.

“I think it was submitted for the sole purpose of throwing their names out there and making me feel some kind of pressure,” Walton said.

Throughout the hearing, Walton remained critical of the defense’s requests, at one point saying, “I hope it’s not being suggested ... that in white-collar cases judges should just release people willy-nilly just because they’re white-collar criminals.”

Libby is the lone White House official sentenced in relation to the leaking of the name of former CIA operative Valerie Plame.

After his March conviction, Libby’s lawyers immediately said they would appeal the decision. An appeal would likely not be heard until December.

Last week, the court released more than 100 letters of support for Libby, including pleas for leniency from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Peter Pace and outgoing World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

Notably absent from the long list of impressively credentialed supporters was Cheney, who issued a statement last week expressing sorrow for Libby and his family.

Libby remained stoic after the decision was announced, standing with his lawyers, who patted him on the back, and smiling to his wife in reassurance as she wiped tears from her eyes.

The former top vice presidential aide winked at a U.S. Marshal as he was escorted from the courtroom for processing; Libby grew close to several of the marshals during the course of his trial, a court official said, as marshals were usually present to deal with crowds and media.

The marshals led Libby and his wife to a black limousine outside the courthouse; neither Libby nor his defense attorneys offered any comment as he stepped into the car and rode away.