Libby's sentencing follows reports in the New York Times and elsewhere over the past week that Cheney opposes the current diplomatic route that President Bush is pursuing with Iran and instead is pushing for armed confrontation with Tehran.
Those reports prompted a denial by Cheney's office Friday, but some observers here believe that David Wurmser, Cheney's deputy national security adviser and his top Middle East aide, may soon be forced to resign. Wurmser, a radical Zionist, is reported to have shopped various war scenarios to neo-conservative think tanks outside the administration.
Another article appearing in the influential Congressional Quarterly last week suggested that Cheney condoned efforts by former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and other hawks in his department to encourage Taiwan to move toward a declaration of independence from China during Bush's first term. The story was based on charges by former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson.
Libby's sentencing also follows the loss of a number of Cheney loyalists in key positions within the administration over the past seven months, beginning with Rumsfeld's ouster last November, the resignation of UN Amb. John Bolton the following month, and, more recently, the departure of Bush's deputy national security adviser, J.D. Crouch.
In addition to his jail sentence, Libby was fined 250,000 dollars by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton and sentenced to an additional two years' probation after serving his prison term. He will likely be permitted to remain free on bail until the authorities determine where he is to be confined, a process that normally takes between 45 and 60 days.
"Your lies blocked an extremely serious investigation, and as result you will indeed go to prison," Walton told Libby during Tuesday's sentencing hearing. "People who occupy these types of positions, where they have the welfare and security of the nation in their hands, have a special obligation to not do anything that might create a problem," he said.
As Cheney's chief of staff, Libby served as the effective hub of a network of mainly neo-conservative political appointees -- notably then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; then-Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bolton; and Bush's chief national security adviser on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams -- that sought to neutralise the influence of the State Department and the CIA on the administration's policy and drive Washington to war in Iraq.
It was via Libby that questionable intelligence -- much of it provided by the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmad Chalabi -- regarding alleged links between Iraq and al Qaeda and the supposedly advanced state of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs was sent from Feith's office directly into the White House, effectively circumventing vetting by intelligence professionals at the State Department and the CIA.
While absolutely loyal to Cheney -- indeed, testimony introduced at his trial indicated that Libby was personally uncomfortable about leaking classified information, including Plame's identity, but only did so at Cheney's behest -- Libby played an indispensable role in enhancing the vice president's effectiveness in influencing policy.
Citing "many of the vice president's close associates," Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote in his book "State of Denial" that "Cheney was lost without Libby...Libby had done so much of the preparation for the vice president's meetings and events, and so much of the hard work. He had been almost part of Cheney's brain."
While Cheney's influence within the administration was already on the wane by the time Libby was forced to resign -- Feith and Wolfowitz, for example, left the administration in early 2005 -- Libby's departure appeared to accelerate the process.
His replacements, lawyer David Addington as chief of staff and John Hannah as national security adviser, have appeared relatively ineffective compared to Libby, particularly in challenging Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has won key battles with Cheney's staff over the past 18 months on engaging North Korea and Iran.
A major question now is whether Bush, who has so far declined to comment on Libby's legal travails, will pardon him between now and the end of his term. "The president said he felt terrible for the family, especially for his wife and kids," Bush's spokesperson told reporters in Germany Monday. "The president has not intervened so far in this or any other criminal matter, so he's going to decline to do so now as well," she added.
But the pressure for a pardon, particularly from Libby's neo-conservative and right-wing supporters who have argued that Libby was the victim of a "political" prosecution, is likely to be intense, particularly once a date for his imprisonment is set.
The Wall Street Journal's neo-conservative editorial writers last week called on Bush to pardon Libby, even before Monday's sentencing.
"President Bush has the power to end this ridiculous saga right now," ran the lead editorial in the mainly neo-conservative National Review shortly after the sentence was announced "He should do so."
The Libby Legal Defense Trust, a group of prominent hawks, neo-conservatives and Republican contributors who have donated several million dollars to defray Libby's legal expenses, submitted scores of letters to the judge calling for leniency.
Among the letter-writers were Wolfowitz (who was also Libby's mentor), Feith, Bolton and Rumsfeld.
The same group, which includes a major contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, former Sen. Fred Thompson, is now likely to turn up the heat on Bush -- whose father pardoned virtually all of the senior officials, including Abrams, who had been convicted of crimes in connection with their roles in the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal.
Other than praising Libby as a dedicated public official and expressing regret about his plight, Cheney, who, according to court testimony, was the person who both informed Libby of Plame's association with the CIA and encouraged him to talk to the press about her, has maintained a prudent silence on the case since the indictment. Whether he will exercise his own not-insignificant -- if declining -- influence on the president to secure a pardon will be one of the more compelling Washington dramas over the next two months.
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Albion Monitor June
5, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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