Former Cheney aide gets 30 months in prison for perjury

Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstruction in a case which also put a glaring spotlight on the flawed United States case for waging war against Iraq.

Libby, formerly one of the most trusted aides to US Vice-President Dick Cheney, was convicted in March for lying to federal investigators in a case probing whether White House officials leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Libby was also fined $250 000 by the court on Tuesday.

Libby was found guilty in March of lying about conversations he had about Plame, but not of actually leaking her name. The leak allegedly intended to avenge criticism of the White House’s rationale for war with Iraq by Plame’s ex-diplomat husband Joseph Wilson.

Plame, meanwhile, has filed a civil suit against Cheney, arguing that her outing, which she alleges he orchestrated, violated her constitutional rights.

Libby had faced up to 25 years in prison, but the two-and-a-half year sentence was still considered by pundits to be harsh, especially since special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had failed to indict him on the more serious federal crime of outing an undercover intelligence officer.

The blockbuster trial exposed a White House allegedly deeply involved in managing the news, manipulating reporters and exaggerating intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme.

It also saw a parade of top Washington journalists in the witness box, forcing them to dish details on their sometimes cozy relationship with sources high in the US government.

The scandal erupted after Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium for nuclear bombs but concluded it was doubtful such transfers took place.

The claim still found its way into Bush’s annual State of the Union address a year later, prompting Wilson to stew for six months before unleashing a New York Times article in which he warned top US officials may have ignored data that contradicted the case for war.

On July 7 2003, the White House admitted the Niger claim rested on flawed intelligence, and should never have made it into the speech.

Conservative newspaper columnist Robert Novak then reported that “two senior administration officials” told him that Plame, Wilson’s wife, was a CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction and had suggested his mission.

Wilson then accused top White House officials of deliberately sabotaging his wife’s cover.

White House spokesperson Tony Fratto, speaking in Prague, said the White House “has no immediate comment” on the sentencing.—AFP


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