Judge Walton has reviewed the request of various media outlets to release letters of support written on behalf of Scooter Libby (written by, among others, "former and current public officials"), and says he's inclined to release them:
After reviewing the various memoranda filed in response to its May 17, 2007 Order, the Court is inclined to permit at lest some form of disclosure of the sentencing letters to the media after the sentencing hearing has taken place. However, the Court believes that further briefing of this issue is warranted.
Here is the letter Marcy and I wrote to Judge Walton:
Margaret (Marcy) Wheeler
8033 Sunset Blvd. #966
Los Angeles, CA 90046
May 28, 2007
The Honorable Reggie B. Walton
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Re: United States v. I. Lewis Libby, Release of Letters
Dear Judge Walton:
We are two of the bloggers credentialed earlier this year to cover the Scooter Libby trial. Numerous commentators, including NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen, considered our coverage on FireDogLake.com to be among of the best coverage of the trial. After having served diligently to make the court’s proceedings readily accessible to the public, we were troubled to discover that Defense Counsel William Jeffress presented the possibility that bloggers might discuss the letters written in support of leniency for his client to be one of the biggest risks to the public release of those letters. “Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.”
Yet even according to Jeffress’ own terms, those letters should be released. He writes: “Nixon views the interest vindicated by giving access to public records as ‘the citizen’s desire to keep a watchful eye on the workings of [the government].’ … Other principles seen as favoring disclosure of judicial records are the need for fostering public confidence in the administration of justice and encouraging informed civic discourse.” All three of those principles apply in this case.
Scooter Libby is one of the highest ranking government officials to be convicted of a felony. The Government provided abundant evidence at trial that Libby’s perjury served to obscure the role of the Vice President in the leak of Valerie Wilson’s identity. The Vice President first told Defendant Libby of Ms. Wilson’s identity; he ordered Libby to leak materials to Judith Miller; following that order, Libby leaked Ms. Wilson’s CIA employ to Ms. Miller; and Libby and the Vice President continued to discuss the Wilsons during the week of the leak and thereafter. Most disturbing, Libby told the Vice President his cover story before he told that story to the FBI. By lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak, Libby appears to have protected the Vice President from any potential criminal exposure for the leak. And Libby prevented the American people from learning the truth about the Vice President’s role in the leak.
If Libby’s obstruction indeed served to protect the Vice President, then any leniency shown to Libby makes it more likely that Libby will continue to protect the Vice President. In other words, pleas for leniency towards Libby carry a distinct benefit for the Vice President (and any other government officials whose role Libby may have obscured).
The government’s filing on this matter notes that some of those who wrote letters in support of Libby are “current and former public officials.” These are precisely the kinds of people who might have an interest in intervening to benefit Vice President Cheney. Moreover, they are precisely the kind of people whose actions the American people deserve to be able to scrutinize. By releasing those letters, you can allow citizens to assess whether those supporting Libby may or may not be trying to influence Vice President Cheney or other government officials implicated in the case.
Furthermore, given recent revelations regarding the firing of at least nine US Attorneys, the situation here calls for the utmost transparency. In at least two cases (Iglesias and McKay), there are credible allegations that Administration supporters intervened improperly in hopes of affecting active criminal cases for political reasons. Given the sharp decline in public confidence in our judicial system resulting from such allegations, and given the prominence of the figures involved in this case, the only way to ensure confidence in the sentencing of Scooter Libby is to strive for the greatest transparency.
Finally, though, the letters should be released in the interests of informed civic discourse. Many of the likely letter-writers continue to pursue public careers. The public deserves to know, then, if such people believe obstruction of justice should simply be treated lightly because a powerful person worked long hours. For example, former Senator and likely presidential candidate Fred Thompson actively raised funds for Libby’s defense. If he were to write a letter belittling the jury verdict, that might suggest contempt for our jury system that presidential voters deserve to consider when they cast their presidential vote.
As bloggers, we strive to bring increased transparency to our judicial system. Our work has greatly heightened the interest and knowledge of the trial system among average citizens. Thus, we have a distinct and—contra Jeffress—completely appropriate interest in the release of letters sent. We urge you to release all of the letters sent in regards to the sentencing of Defendant Libby.
Thank you for your consideration,
Margaret (Marcy) Wheeler Jane Hamsher
I actually think that the letters should be released to the media prior to sentencing so that the public has the information to evaluate whether they have had an influence in whatever determination Judge Walton makes. Considering the Probation Officer's outrageous sentencing recommendation says that Libby should serve a shorter time because of his high legal bills (which observant readers will note Libby did not have to pay, thanks to the largesse of all the Republican donors giving to his defense fund) I think a lot of questions are going to be asked no matter what the outcome and the more transparency there is the less susceptible the decision will be to charges of undue influence.
One thing to add — Team Libby had a dealine of Friday to submit his pre-sentencing memo, and his legal team did not meet it. They now have to have it in by 5pm tomorrow.