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Powerful backers seek probation for Libby

Judge receives over 150 letters

I. Lewis Libby's attorneys say his notable career should spare him prison. I. Lewis Libby's attorneys say his notable career should spare him prison.

WASHINGTON -- Former White House and State Department officials and military commanders are supporting former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as he asks a federal judge to spare him prison time in the CIA leak case.

Prosecutors want Libby to serve up to three years in prison for lying about his conversations with reporters regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson , whose 2003 outing touched off a leak investigation.

Libby's lawyers said yesterday that a prison sentence would be unfair. Citing numerous letters from former colleagues and friends, they said Libby deserved only probation.

"His dedication to promoting freedom abroad and keeping American citizens safe at home is beyond question," the attorneys wrote.

Libby was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction, becoming the highest-ranking White House official convicted since the Iran-Contra affair two decades ago. Sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday.

US District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he received more than 150 letters on the sentencing. Over Libby's objection, he said he would make those letters public.

One letter quoted by Libby's attorneys, from a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "I always came away from our encounters thinking how lucky the country was to have someone of his caliber helping think through the great security challenges we all faced."

Probation officers recommend a sentencing range of 15 to 21 months, but left open the possibility that defense attorneys could argue for less. Libby's attorneys say his distinguished career should persuade Walton to spare him prison.

"While working in the executive branch, Mr. Libby helped the United States win the Gulf War, assisted with the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe, helped craft a strategy for reduced defense spending, and played a significant role in the largest nuclear arms reduction in history," attorneys said.

Libby's attorneys did not name the letter-writers in documents filed yesterday.

"They are conservatives and liberals; career public servants and people working in journalism, medicine, and law; professional mentors and pro bono clients," attorneys wrote. "They run the gamut from four-star generals and admirals to noncommissioned officers; renowned professors and Cabinet officials to secretaries, law firm associates, and junior staffers."

They said special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was trying to use the perjury case to sentence Libby for the leak. That's the case Fitzgerald "could have sought to try -- but chose not to," and it would be wrong to sentence Libby as if he were convicted of leaking Plame Wilson's identity, defense attorneys said.

Fitzgerald said last week that Libby showed no remorse for corrupting the judicial system.

Walton, who has a reputation as a strict judge who hands down tough sentences, has broad discretion over Libby's fate. If he sends Libby to prison, he must also decide whether to put that sentence on hold until the appeals run out.

That decision could determine how much time President Bush has to decide whether to pardon Libby.