WASHINGTON — I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney whose sentence for lying and obstructing justice in the CIA leak case was commuted by President Bush last summer, has dropped his legal appeal.
The announcement from Libby's lawyer could be the coda to a scandal that riveted Washington for several years, saw one top-name journalist imprisoned for refusing to say who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame and ignited a debate about whether the White House misled the country into war in Iraq.
Libby was found guilty in March of obstruction of justice, making false statements to the FBI and two counts of perjury. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000. Bush commuted the sentence before Libby served any time. The president could still pardon him, wiping out the conviction, before he leaves office.
"We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby's innocence," his lawyer, Theodore Wells, said in a statement Monday. "However, the realities were that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear."
Wells said the decision not to continue the appeal was tactical.
"The appeal would lead only to a retrial," he said, "a process that would last even beyond the two years of supervised release, cost millions of dollars more than the fine he has already paid and entail many more hundreds of hours preparing for an all-consuming appeal and retrial."
The decision also reflects the political reality that if the appellate court granted a new trial, it would probably occur during the administration of the next president, who might not share Bush's interest in helping Libby.
The White House declined to comment on the prospects of a pardon. "We never comment on whether or not the president will be granting pardons to anybody," Press Secretary Dana Perino said Monday.
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who pursued the leak investigation, had no comment. His inquiry prompted reporter Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, to accept jail time rather than disclose the name of her source. Later, released from her pledge of confidentiality by Libby, she testified in court with other journalists.
Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of State, disclosed later that he mentioned Plame's role at the CIA to journalist Robert Novak, not expecting it to be published. Although Bush political operative Karl Rove was also investigated, Libby was the only one indicted.
Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, filed a civil suit against Cheney, Libby, Rove and Armitage, seeking damages because the disclosure of her identity as a covert agent forced her to change jobs. The couple maintained that Plame was outed by the Bush administration because Wilson had criticized the White House's justifications for going to war in Iraq. Their lawsuit was dismissed.
On Monday, Wilson issued a statement about the dropped appeal: "Mr. Libby has finally abandoned the pretense that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice."