Libby May Rely on Faulty-Memory Defense

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 30, 2005

I. Lewis Libby and Karl Rove, one facing indictment, the other hoping to avoid one, are pursuing a similar strategy to prove their innocence in the CIA leak case: showing they are guilty of memory lapses, not lies.

Libby, indicted Friday on five counts of lying and obstructing justice, contends that any misleading information he provided to the grand jury or federal investigators was the result of a hectic schedule and foggy recollections, according to people familiar with his thinking.

"Mr. Libby testified to the best of his recollection on all occasions," Joseph A. Tate, Libby's lawyer, said in his first statement on the case, released Friday. Libby's friends plan to set up a legal defense fund soon to help him fight the charges, according to one person familiar with the effort.

Rove, who sources said narrowly escaped indictment through last-minute negotiations, is working privately to convince Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald that he did not lie to a grand jury about his role in the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. With Fitzgerald threatening to indict Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff provided him with new information last week that prompted Fitzgerald to rethink charging him with making false statements, according to two people close to the case.

A source close to Rove said President Bush's closest adviser stands ready to provide the prosecutor with anything else he needs in the days ahead, and remains optimistic an indictment is not forthcoming. Rove expects a decision soon.

Fitzgerald "understands what is at stake here," said a source close to Rove. "We are going to find out if we are going to get good or bad news."

Fitzgerald has largely completed the 22-month investigation into whether any Bush administration official leaked Plame's name, without charging anyone with violating the laws that make such actions illegal in some circumstances.

Instead, the grand jury indicted Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, on two counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstructing justice. Fitzgerald has not concluded his investigation of Rove, which people close to the case say focuses on at least one misleading statement Rove made to the grand jury.

While some Republicans dismissed the charges against Libby, who resigned Friday, as technicalities unrelated to deliberately unmasking a CIA agent, allegations of lies put Libby -- and possibly Rove -- in serious legal jeopardy and are creating a new set of political problems for the Bush White House.

"Libby is tripped up over the investigation, not over the crime, and I think that is significant," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). Still, "the impression you get is he was a good foot soldier for many years, but he stepped over the boundary in his job, and no one is above the law."

Republicans close to the White House said Bush was relieved on Friday that Rove and other White House officials were not implicated in the leak case but plans to say little about the Libby indictment at least until Rove's situation becomes clear.

The administration is bracing for a barrage of criticism about the Libby indictment and its flawed case for invading Iraq. Yet, White House aides believe they escaped a much more damaging and demoralizing outcome when Fitzgerald's grand jury did not charge officials with exposing Plame or conspiring to do so, saying pointedly at his news conference Friday that war critics should draw no conclusions from his findings, the Republican sources said.

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