Three years ago, former Oklahoma state Senator Gene Stipe stood in the same courthouse in Washington as Scooter Libby did on Tuesday, facing sentencing for similar federal offenses.
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, got 30 months in prison. Stipe got no prison time.
The crux of the case against both was that they lied and obstructed a federal investigation into wrongdoing.
Stipe lied to the Federal Election Commission regarding his schemes to funnel illegal money into a 1998 congressional campaign. He was charged with perjury, conspiracy to obstruct an investigation and conspiracy to violate federal election laws. Stipe ultimately pleaded guilty to the charges.
Libby lied to a grand jury and the FBI during an investigation of the leak of the name of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. His case went to a jury and he was convicted of obstructing justice, perjury and lying to the FBI.
Both cases were prosecuted by the Justice Department and heard by U.S. District Court judges in the courthouse a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. In both cases, prosecutors sought jail time.
The judges in both cases received letters from prominent people vouching for them. In Libby’s case, it was people like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Stipe got letters from people like University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole.
Stipe could have been sentenced to one year in prison, but U.S. District Judge James Robertson said he had to consider Stipe’s age _ he was 77 when he was sentenced in 2004 _ and his health and the fact that the case took so long to finish (it started in 1998 but, because Stipe and his associates lied, it took awhile to discern the truth).
“I’m not going to send Mr. Stipe to prison,” Robertson said then. “It makes no sense to me as a matter of deterrent. It makes no sense to me as a matter of public policy.”
But, in sentencing Libby, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton saw prison time as the right punishment for someone who was so involved in public policy and obstructed the judicial process.
According to the Associated Press, Walton said Tuesday, “People who occupy these types of positions, where they have the welfare and security of nation in their hands, have a special obligation to not do anything that might create a problem.”
Stipe was probably lucky he didn’t have Walton for a judge.
However, Stipe’s luck may have run out. According to a stories by Oklahoman reporter Anthony Thornton, Stipe’s alleged involvement in a number of improper activities since his sentencing could mean his probation is revoked and another sentence is handed down, this time in federal court in Muskogee.