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Cheney's former chief of staff disbarred

  • Story Highlights
  • District of Columbia court blocks "Scooter" Libby from practicing law
  • Libby convicted of lying to grand jury and investigators in CIA leak case
  • President Bush commuted Libby's 30 month sentence, calling it "excessive"
  • Libby was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was disbarred from practicing law in the nation's capital on Thursday.

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I Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted to lying to a grand jury and investigators last year.

The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted last year of lying to a grand jury and federal agents probing the leak of the identity of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson.

"When a member of the Bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory," the District of Columbia Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion, which is posted on its Web site.

"When convictions on more than one count are involved, disbarment is mandated if any one of them involves moral turpitude," the court added.

Last July, a court sentenced Libby to a 30-month prison term. President Bush later commuted Libby's sentence, calling it "excessive."

Despite the commutation, Libby still had to pay a $250,000 fine and serve two years probation.

Unlike a presidential pardon which wipes a person's crimes off the books, Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence only means that he does not have to serve the prison sentence. He is still considered guilty of the crime he was convicted.

The president stopped short of an outright pardon, noting that "our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth."

The clemency grant raised eyebrows among legal observers and prompted criticism from Democrats.

William Jeffress, one of the attorneys who helped defend Libby in the criminal trial, told CNN, "We are not surprised by the appeals court decision, because clearly under the rules this is automatic."

Jeffress could not say whether Libby might apply for reinstatement if he is pardoned. He gave no indication such a pardon is anticipated.

Although the White House has declined to say whether Bush might go beyond his decision to commute Libby's jail time, both Bush and Cheney have expressed strong support for Libby.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told CNN a presidential pardon could indeed open the door for Libby to try to regain his license to practice law.

"Whether it would be granted is another matter," she said, given ethics standards that a bar would normally consider.

Sloan's group is pursuing a civil suit on behalf of Plame Wilson, claiming damage from White House disclosures of her identity and connection to the CIA.

Although the suit has been rejected by a federal court, the group Friday will file a brief ahead of an appeals argument May 9.

Case history dating back to the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s could affect Libby's prospects for regaining his law license if he is granted a full pardon.

Elliott Abrams, an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration, received a full presidential pardon for making false and misleading statements to Congress.

Lawmakers had investigated illicit U.S. arms sales to Nicaraguan rebels at a time Congress had voted to halt such aid.

An appeals court in 1995 rejected a Washington law board's proposed suspension and sanctions against Abrams, concluding that "a full and unconditional presidential pardon attached not just to the criminal conviction, but also to the conduct that was or may have been the basis of the conviction." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this report.

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