What ought to happen to good men when they do bad things and get caught? What should their punishment be? How should society balance the production and patriotism of an individual's life with the misdeeds he performs while in high office? Those weighty questions will be answered, at least for one day and in one case, when U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton sentences I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Tuesday for obstruction and perjury relating to the CIA leak investigation.
Federal prosecutors have asked Walton to aggressively sentence Libby, the former high-ranking White House official, to three years or so for lying to grand jurors and federal investigators when they asked him to explain his role in the improper and perhaps illegal disclosure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson's name to the media. In turn, Libby's lawyers have asked Walton to give their client probation because of his wonderful career of public service. And the federal probation office involved in the Libby case is splitting the baby — recommending that Libby serve between one and two years in prison.
Libby's lawyers are pleading for mercy and leniency by telling Walton that their client has been a pillar of the recent Washington establishment. Libby is a modern-day Wise Man, his legal tribunes claim, and thus has stored up his fair share of legal and political credits that now he ought to be able to cash in at the bench of justice. Not so, says special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who wants Walton to sentence Libby harshly not just as a symbol of what you are not supposed to do when the feds come calling — lie under oath — but also because Libby, a lawyer, should have known better than to try to subvert justice the way he did.
Whatever Walton decides will send a signal from the world of the law to the world of politics. After all, what Libby was doing when he tried to use the media to get back at the Wilsons (at the behest of his bosses) was not much different from what thousands of government officials do every year in this country; backstabbing someone anonymously to achieve a particular political end. And, of course, Libby's lack of candor before the grand jury and when questioned by the feds also is not much different from what we have come to expect from our politicians — all politicians — when it comes to spinning and parsing their way around "those stubborn facts." Except that Libby was under oath at the time.
I would bet the "over" here; bet that Libby receives a prison sentence from the judge that is somewhere between the minimum recommended by the probation folks and the minimum recommended by the prosecutor. And then we can all wait for Libby's appeal to unfold and for President George W. Bush to determine whether he wants to pardon his vice-president's former chief of staff. Do good men deserve leniency when they do bad things? You tell me. Some would argue that good men who do bad things aren't good men any more.