President Trump has pardoned Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of perjury in 2007 in connection with the leak of a CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity to the press.
Supporters of Libby have long said he was unfairly railroaded in a political prosecution at the time.
President Trump plans to pardon I. Lewis Libby Jr., who as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted of perjury in connection with the leak of a C.I.A. officer’s identity, a person familiar with the decision said on Thursday.
Mr. Libby’s case has long been a cause for conservatives who maintained that he was a victim of a special prosecutor run amok, an argument that may have resonated with the president. Mr. Trump has repeatedly complained that the special counsel investigation into possible cooperation between his campaign and Russia in 2016 has gone too far and amounts to an unfair “witch hunt.”
Mr. Libby, who goes by Scooter, was convicted of four felonies in 2007 for perjury before a grand jury, lying to F.B.I. investigators and obstruction of justice during an investigation into the disclosure of the work of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. officer. President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s 30-month prison sentence but refused to grant him a full pardon despite the strenuous requests of Mr. Cheney, a decision that soured the relationship between the two men.
Plame has gone on to become a vocal critic of the Bush administration and Republicans in general.
A pardon of Mr. Libby would paradoxically put Mr. Trump in the position of absolving one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, which Mr. Trump has denounced as a catastrophic miscalculation. It would also mean he was forgiving a former official who was convicted in a case involving leaks despite Mr. Trump’s repeated inveighing against those who disclose information to reporters.
Critics of Mr. Trump quickly interpreted the prospective pardon as a signal by the president that he would protect those who refuse to turn on their bosses, as Mr. Libby was presumed not to have betrayed Mr. Cheney. Mr. Trump has not ruled out pardons in the Russia investigation.
Mr. Trump has shown no particular interest in Mr. Libby’s case before. In 2015, during his campaign for the White House, Mr. Trump was asked if he would pardon Mr. Libby and declined to say, calling it an irrelevant issue. It was unclear when Mr. Trump would issue the pardon, which was first reported by ABC News.
The pardon is seen as a signal by the Trump administration that they see a history of special counsel abuse in prosecution, something they have argued is an issue here.
Mr. Libby was not charged with the leak itself and has long argued that his conviction rested on an innocent difference in memories between him and several witnesses, not an intent to deceive investigators. Although Mr. Bush’s clemency order kept him from going to prison, Mr. Libby’s conviction nonetheless remained intact and he was disbarred as a lawyer as a result. He was not reinstated to the bar until 2016.
Among the allies from the Bush administration who have argued that he was treated unfairly is John R. Bolton, an ally of Mr. Cheney’s who served as Mr. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and started this week as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. Other allies of Mr. Libby’s include Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, a husband-and-wife team of lawyers who recently talked about going to work for Mr. Trump before deciding against it because of a client conflict.
A pardon by Mr. Trump would amount to official forgiveness, not exoneration. A pardon does not signify innocence but does eliminate many consequences of a conviction, such as any effect on the right to vote, hold elective office or sit on a jury. As a practical matter, those seeking pardons hope it will erase or ease the stigma of a criminal conviction.
Mr. Libby’s prosecution became a symbol of the polarizing politics of the Iraq war during the Bush administration. Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, was a former diplomat who wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times in 2003 implying that Mr. Cheney ignored evidence that argued against the conclusion that Iraq was actively seeking to build nuclear weapons.
To undercut Mr. Wilson’s criticism, administration officials told reporters that he had been sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger because his wife worked for the C.I.A., not at the behest of Mr. Cheney. But federal law bars the disclosure of the identities of C.I.A. officials in certain circumstances and the leak prompted a special prosecutor investigation.
Charged with lying to investigators about his interactions with journalists, Mr. Libby insisted he simply remembered events differently. But his version of events clashed with the testimony of eight other people, including fellow administration officials, and a jury convicted him. Mr. Bush decided that the prison sentence was “excessive,” but he said he would not substitute his judgment for that of the jury when it came to the question of Mr. Libby’s guilt.