On Monday, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, got some good news. Convicted last month of lying to investigators and obstructing inquiries into the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, Libby learned he wouldn't have to serve his 30-month prison sentence — and had President George W. Bush to thank.
The president commuted Libby's sentence, a move that falls just short of a full pardon (see "President Bush Commutes Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's Sentence In CIA Leak Case"). While largely expected, Bush's decision was met with praise from conservative activists and sparked ire among Democrats who condemned the act as another example of what they have termed the White House's disregard for the law.
In a statement announcing the commutation, Bush — who has not ruled out a pardon, even though a recent CNN poll showed only 19 percent of Americans would support one for Libby — called the prison stint "excessive." He added that the dissolution of Libby's reputation in legal and political circles, along with the $250,000 fine and two-year probation stint he was also sentenced to, was sufficient punishment for his crimes.
But has justice really been served? When compared with several other recent high-profile criminal cases and the punishments that were subsequently doled out, Libby seems to have gotten off easy. How does his outcome, for example, stack up against Paris Hilton and Lil' Kim's?
Lewis "Scooter" Libby:
First sitting White House official to be indicted in 130 years and the highest-ranking White House official convicted in a government scandal since National Security Adviser John Poindexter in the Iran-Contra affair in 1990.
His crime: Libby was indicted on five federal felony counts of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury in the CIA leak grand jury investigation into the "Plame affair." He was accused of leaking classified employment information about Valerie Plame, the wife of Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson and a covert CIA agent; he was also accused of trying to cover up the matter. Libby later testified that he had met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discussed Plame with her. On March 6, Libby was convicted on four of the five counts against him: two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice in a grand jury investigation, and one count of making false statements to federal investigators.
His sentence: For his wartime leakage of confidential government information, Libby was sentenced to serve 30 months behind bars, ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and placed on probation for two years. According to current federal sentencing guidelines, which are not mandatory, he could have been sentenced to up to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay a $1 million fine.
The outcome: After a protracted trial and the expenditure of untold tax dollars, but before the commencement of the appeals process, Libby's sentence was commuted by Bush. Libby can still appeal the fine and probation.
Celebutante, socialite, model, reality-television star and heiress, she has also dabbled with music and film.
Her crime: In the fall, Hilton was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Her license was suspended and she was later slapped with probation and fines of about $1,500. Hilton was pulled over for driving with a suspended license in two separate instances, which prosecutors determined constituted a violation of her probation.
Her sentence: Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in jail. After initially filing an appeal, she later withdrew it after the sentence was reduced to at least 23 days. She eventually only ended up serving 23 days of her sentence and was finally released June 26.
The outcome: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca "reassigned" Hilton fom jail to 40 days of home confinement due to "an unspecified medical condition," but she later returned to prison to serve out the sentence. Some believe Hilton's sentence was too harsh — including Baca, who said she shouldn't have served any time, given her lack of criminal history. But the Los Angeles Times concluded that, had Paris been released after four days in jail, she would have served the same amount of time as 60 percent of inmates with a similar record. The same article determined that the actual time Hilton served exceeded that of 80 percent of people arrested for similar offenses.
A Grammy Award-winning rapper with four LPs under her belt, she's acted in the occasional movie and was the subject of BET's "Lil Kim: Countdown to Lockdown" reality-TV series.
Her crime: In March 2005, Lil' Kim (real name: Kimberly Denise Jones) was convicted of conspiracy and perjury for lying to a grand jury about her friends' involvement in a 2001 shooting. The incident occurred outside the studios of New York hip-hop station Hot 97 and allegedly involved members of her entourage and those of rival Foxy Brown. Kim claimed she had no idea her former manager, Damion "D-Roc" Butler, and a friend of hers, Suif Jackson, were at the scene of the shooting — even in the face of videotaped evidence to the contrary. Butler and Jackson admitted to participating in the shootout as part of a plea deal offered by the prosecution and testified against Kim during her trial.
Her sentence: In July 2005, Lil' Kim was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. She turned herself in the following September. She was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and will be on probation until 2009. A parole bill was filed that later reduced her sentence, and Kim was released on July 3, 2006.
The outcome: Kim's sentence was less severe than what the sentencing guidelines dictate — up to 20 years. She still maintains her innocence.
MTV News hit the streets in New York on Tuesday (July 3) to gauge reaction to Libby's commutation and see how you think it compares to Paris Hilton and Lil' Kim's outcomes:
"A crime is a crime. It shouldn't be what's worse. If you broke the law, you deserve to do the time. But if I had to pick, I guess obstruction of justice, because we have officers out there, people trying to do their job, make sure the world is safe, and if you're messing that up for everyone else, you're just as bad as the criminals. Breaking the law is breaking the law, and you should do the time." — Kelsey, 21, Maryland
"Driving with a suspended license, because you're putting yourself and others in harm's way. You're not going to go around and kill people with obstruction of justice or perjury. But if you're driving, and you're not supposed to be, there's a reason for that." — Nicole, 17, Pennsylvania
"If you do the crime, you should do the time, regardless. Obstruction of justice is the worst of all, and seeing that [Libby] isn't doing no time, it would shake a few heads, I guess. It makes me think twice about our system." — Andrew, 21, Maryland
"Obstruction of justice is worse, and it can be so extreme in the way that you do it. The other ones are lower crimes that I don't think deserve that much time." — Alexis, 20, Virginia