Trump Pardons Scooter Libby in a Case That Mirrors His Own

I. Lewis Libby Jr. after his 2007 conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to the leaking of a C.I.A. officer’s identity.

WASHINGTON — For months, President Trump has railed against investigators and presented himself as the target of an unfair prosecution.

So when he was asked to pardon former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who likewise considered himself the target of an unfair prosecution, Mr. Trump may have seen some parallels — and a chance to make a statement.

The statement came on Friday when the president granted a full pardon to I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was Mr. Cheney’s top adviser before he was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the disclosure of the identity of a C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame. Mr. Libby, the president declared, had not received justice.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby,” Mr. Trump said in a statement, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

The pardon was only the third of Mr. Trump’s presidency but amounted to a dramatic coda to a politically charged case that once gripped Washington and came to embody the divisions over the Iraq war. Mr. Libby, who goes by Scooter, was seen by his critics as an agent of a war built on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and by his friends as a scapegoat for a special prosecutor who was actually trying to bring down Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Libby has long maintained his innocence, arguing that his conviction rested on a difference of memories. President George W. Bush commuted his 30-month prison sentence while refusing to give a full pardon, saying he respected the jury’s verdict. But Mr. Libby’s hopes of overturning his conviction took a turn in 2015 when Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter and a key witness at his trial, recanted her testimony, and a year later a court reinstated his law license.

Victoria Toensing, a lawyer and friend of Mr. Libby’s, said on Friday that she brought his case to the attention of the White House Counsel’s Office over the summer. Ms. Toensing and her husband and law partner, Joseph diGenova, were briefly set to work for Mr. Trump as private lawyers last month until they backed out, citing a client conflict.

Ms. Toensing would not indicate whether she discussed Mr. Libby directly with Mr. Trump, but she did say that the president called her on Friday to notify her that he had signed the pardon. She then called Mr. Libby to give him the news, but he had just undergone an M.R.I. for a back problem and “was a little hazy,” so she told his wife, Harriet.

“It’s taken a long time to get the right thing to happen,” Ms. Toensing said. “As a former prosecutor and as a defense attorney, I’m appalled by what happened.”

In a statement later in the day, Mr. Libby thanked the president. “For over a dozen years, we have suffered under the weight of a terrible injustice,” he said. “To his great credit, President Trump recognized this wrong and would not let it persist. For this honorable act, we shall forever be grateful.”

Mr. Cheney hailed the move. “Scooter Libby is one of the most capable, principled and honorable men I have ever known,” he said in a statement. “He is innocent, and he and his family have suffered for years because of his wrongful conviction. I am grateful that President Trump righted this wrong by issuing a full pardon to Scooter, and I am thrilled for Scooter and his family.”

Mr. Bush offered no objection to the decision, even though it conflicted with his own judgment on the case. “President Bush is very pleased for Scooter and his family,” his office said in a statement.

But critics saw hypocrisy in Mr. Trump’s decision, coming on the same day that he was denouncing James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

“On the day the president wrongly attacks Comey for being a ‘leaker and liar’ he considers pardoning a convicted leaker and liar, Scooter Libby,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, wrote on Twitter. “This is the president’s way of sending a message to those implicated in the Russia investigation: You have my back and I’ll have yours.”

Ms. Plame, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M., said she did not believe the pardon had anything to do with her or Mr. Libby but Mr. Trump’s own legal issues. “I would say he’s trying to build a firewall,” she said.

His real audience, she added, was the associates who might turn on him. “He’s saying, ‘If you get in trouble, don’t spill the beans, I’ll take care of you.’ This is how the mafia works.”

The White House rejected any connection. “Not at all,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “One thing has nothing to do with the other, and every case should be reviewed on their own merits.”

The case stemmed from an Op-Ed column in The Times in 2003 in which a former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, wrote that he had been sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking nuclear materials, only to have his negative findings ignored by Mr. Cheney and the White House. Administration officials told journalists that Mr. Wilson was sent to Niger because his wife, Ms. Plame, worked at the C.I.A.

The outing of Ms. Plame prompted Mr. Comey, then the deputy attorney general, to appoint a special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. While no one was charged in the leak itself, Mr. Fitzgerald won the conviction of Mr. Libby on four felony counts of perjury, lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.

Among the witnesses at his trial was Ms. Miller, who had spent 85 days in prison resisting prosecutors who sought her testimony about her conversations with Mr. Libby until he released her from any confidentiality pledge.

Ms. Miller wrote in her 2015 book, “The Story,” that she had since concluded that she had been misled by Mr. Fitzgerald’s office and as a result had misinterpreted notes of her talks with Mr. Libby and that he may not have mentioned Ms. Plame’s C.I.A. employment to her after all.

“My testimony, though sworn honestly, might have been wrong,” she wrote. She added, “Had I helped convict an innocent man?”

Ms. Miller, who has left The Times, said by email on Friday that she had no discussions with the White House about Mr. Libby’s pardon. “I’m pleased for Scooter Libby and am glad that the case I made for him in my book was found compelling,” she said. “I urge others to read the narrative I offered.”

But Mr. Fitzgerald said the pardon was ill considered. In a statement, he said Mr. Libby’s conviction was based on the testimony of multiple witnesses, not just Ms. Miller.

“While the president has the constitutional power to pardon, the decision to do so in this case purports to be premised on the notion that Libby was an innocent man convicted on the basis of inaccurate testimony caused by the prosecution,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “That is false.”

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