Libby's Sentence Not Excessive, Former Prosecutors Say

Although President Bush said he commuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's 30-month prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice because it was "severe" and "excessive," several former prosecutors and sentencing law experts told ABC News that Libby's sentence was not unusually harsh.

A 30-month sentence is not far out of line with what several prosecutors said they would expect in a politically charged case that involves a person of Libby's public standing. His sentence was within the range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.

Though Libby's jail term was tougher than that of several other recent high profile defendants, such as Martha Stewart, his sentence is consistent with other, lesser-known, perjury and obstruction of justice cases, they said.

"It can't be described as excessive or extreme," Terree Bowers, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles under the Clinton and first Bush administrations, said of Libby's sentence.

Libby's high position of trust in the government and the seriousness of the investigation could account for the differences in sentences, several experts said.

A Little Longer Than Expected

Libby was found guilty of two counts of perjury and one count each of lying to FBI agents and obstructing a federal investigation into whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Several experts said his sentence was on the higher end of typical perjury and obstruction cases, and some argued that 30 months was unreasonably strict.

Former U.S. attorney Kendall Coffee, a Clinton appointee, told ABC News that he thought Libby's sentence was "harsher than seemed appropriate under the circumstances," given that the underlying charge was never prosecuted.

But former assistant U.S. attorney Robert Mintz, while agreeing that the sentence was long, said, "This is not so far afield from the types of sentences handed down in these kinds of cases." He said he would typically expect a sentence of between one to two years for comparable cases.

33-Month Sentence Upheld

When Stewart was convicted of lying to federal investigators in an insider trading inquiry, she spent five months in prison.

After rapper Lil' Kim lied to a grand jury about a 2001 shootout involving other rappers, she served 10 months in prison.

Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying under oath but was acquitted in his impeachment trial before the Senate. His license to practice law was suspended.

Oliver North, convicted of aiding and abetting the obstruction of a congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal, was sentenced to probation, a fine and community service — though that was before federal sentencing guidelines went into effect.

But, Libby's sentence appears in line with other cases.

The Supreme Court recently upheld a 33-month sentence for Victor Rita, a Marine and Army veteran convicted of lying to authorities in connection with an illegal gun investigation.

Rita received more than 35 awards and medals for his military service, according to court papers. The courts rejected his argument that he should have received a lesser sentence because of his record of military service — a similar argument to that made by Libby's lawyers.

"It's hard to say that Rita's crime is worse or even as bad as Libby's crime," said Douglas Berman, a sentencing law expert at Moritz College of Law.

The Supreme Court decision, which held that federal appellate courts can presume that any sentence within sentencing guidelines is reasonable, made it less likely that Libby's sentence would be overturned on appeal, and may have played a role in Bush's decision to commute his sentence, which was within federal guidelines.

'More Serious' for a Public Official

Nora Demleitner, interim dean at Hofstra University School of Law and co-author of a textbook on sentencing law, said that Libby's position in government distinguished him from private citizens like Stewart and Kim, and made a tougher sentence more appropriate. "It's much more serious when a public official is involved," she said.

"Judges take obstruction of justice most seriously," Demleitner said. "These charges generally carry substantial sentences — and rightfully so."

Bowers added that the fact that Libby's case involved a complex investigation into a serious national security issue could explain the difference in sentences. Lying to investigators can be more damaging to complex investigations, he said.

"They're trying to determine a variety of potential criminal conduct with multiple suspects, so it's more imperative that people cooperate," Bowers said. "Combine that with Libby's position of trust, and that could provide some enhancement for the sentence."

Berman said courts typically will not lower an obstruction of justice sentence because of a defendant's family circumstances or history of public service.

And while a 30-month sentence may seem harsh to some, John Barrett, a former prosecutor on the Iran-Contra case, said the judge was following the sentencing guidelines. "This is standard federal sentencing.

"For many people, this may have been the first time they are acquainted with the fact that this is the way federal laws work," Barrett said.

With reporting by Lauren Pearle and the ABC News Law & Justice Unit.