Cheney Aide Libby Is Indicted
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted yesterday on charges of lying to federal investigators and obstructing justice in the 22-month CIA leak investigation. Libby, the first sitting White House aide charged with a crime in recent history, resigned.
Karl Rove, the president's top strategist, narrowly escaped indictment after providing new information during eleventh-hour negotiations with Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald but could still be charged in the case, according to three people familiar with the talks. A source close to Rove said the senior strategist's fate will be known soon.
Libby was one of the most powerful staff members in government and Cheney's closest adviser. Libby faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines if convicted of two counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstructing justice in the secretive probe that rattled the White House and rekindled the debate over the Iraq war.
Libby issued a statement through his attorney, Joseph Tate, in which he said: "I am confident that at the end of this process I will be completely and totally exonerated."
But Fitzgerald's indictment depicts Libby as concocting scenarios that never occurred. In one instance, Libby said he first learned of Valerie Plame's role as a covert CIA operative from NBC's Tim Russert in early July. But Russert and Libby never discussed the operative, according to the indictment. In fact, it says, he learned of her from Cheney, State Department officials and a CIA briefer more than a month earlier.
The 22-page indictment leaves open the possibility of more bad news to come: the specter of a public trial featuring top White House officials and the chance of more indictments in the weeks ahead.
Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, did not charge anyone with the crime he originally set out to investigate nearly two years ago: whether officials illegally disclosed Plame's identity to the news media to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a harsh critic of the administration's Iraq war policy.
Fitzgerald indicated that he considered it, but that Libby's alleged lies made it difficult to prove the root crime of intentionally unmasking a CIA agent.
As for Libby's role as the first person to leak Plame's name to a reporter, the prosecutor said Libby "lied about it, under oath, repeatedly" and damaged national security in the process. That, he added, "to me defines a serious breach of public trust."
Libby is expected to appear for arraignment before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Tuesday or Wednesday. Walton was appointed to the federal bench by Bush, and was first appointed to the D.C. Superior Court by President Ronald Reagan.
Bush and Cheney said they were saddened by Libby's indictment and resignation -- but praised him as a loyal public servant and offered no criticism of his actions. "In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial," Bush said in a brief statement to reporters. A trial could force a number of White House officials, including the vice president, to testify, but Bush said he is "fully focused" on other problems facing the nation.
On Capitol Hill, several lawmakers were critical of the White House and there was general agreement among members of both parties that Libby did the right thing by stepping down.