Indictment: Libby lied to grand jury
The chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney also is charged with obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case.
By ANITA KUMAR and WES ALLISON
Published October 29, 2005
WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was charged Friday with obstruction of justice and lying about whether White House officials disclosed the secret identity of a CIA agent after her husband angered the administration with criticism about Iraq.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was the first high-ranking White House official since Watergate to be criminally charged while still in office.
The five-count, 22-page indictment by a federal grand jury empaneled almost two years ago spared another top White House aide, Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, though Rove's attorney said he was told that no decision had been made about whether he'll be charged.
The investigation remains open indefinitely, which Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald called routine. It may - or may not - result in further charges.
According to the indictment, Libby told at least three reporters that Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, was a CIA agent, though he was not charged with violating a law that forbids knowingly revealing a covert operative's identity.
Instead, he was charged with lying to federal agents and a grand jury about what he told the reporters before her name was publicly revealed in a syndicated column in July 2003.
"When a vice president's chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, it does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously, that all citizens are bound by the law," Fitzgerald said at a news conference.
But even with the long-anticipated charges, there are some questions that have not been answered. Chief among them is the central mystery that started the investigation in the first place: Who told columnist Robert Novak, the first to publish the name, about Valerie Plame? The indictment simply calls this source Official A.
The investigation also leaves unanswered the question of whether others in the administration shared Libby's alleged interest in sharing Plame's identity with reporters. Rove testified before the grand jury four times and spoke with at least two reporters about Wilson and his wife.
President Bush said he was "saddened" by the indictment, while Cheney said he accepted Libby's resignation "with deep regret."
An expert in foreign policy and an important advocate for invading Iraq, Libby, 55, had served as Cheney's right hand since 2001. He remained the consummate insider, powerful yet obscure enough to be unknown to most Americans until recently. That may help keep the scandal from overwhelming the Bush administration's message and agenda.
Libby is expected to turn himself in and appear before a Washington judge in a matter of days. If convicted of all five felony counts, he faces up to 30 years in prison, though such a lengthy sentence would be unlikely.
Libby said in a statement that he was confident he "will be completely and totally exonerated."
In the indictment, Fitzgerald stops short of saying Libby sought to retaliate against Wilson for his publicized views that the Bush administration had "twisted" intelligence reports to justify an invasion of Iraq. But in laying out his case, Fitzgerald clearly places Libby's actions in the context of an increasingly public dispute about what the White House knew of Iraq's weapons programs.
The section on the "events leading up to July 2003," when Libby had his pivotal conversations with the reporters, opens with President Bush's State of the Union address in which he asserted that intelligence reports confirmed that Saddam Hussein had "recently sought significant uranium from Africa."
It was that very claim that Wilson vigorously disputed. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate reports of a uranium transaction a year before Bush made his speech. Wilson said he found the allegation false, and he grew publicly angry when the White House continued referring to the uranium transaction even after he gave his report on the matter.
The indictment alleges that as Wilson grew more public, Libby grew more interested in him. Beginning in May 2003, the indictment says, Libby spoke with a series of high-level officials in the CIA and the White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney, to learn more about Wilson and his trip to Niger. Among the details that the indictment says Libby learned from more than one source was that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.
Essentially, the indictment charges that Libby told reporters about Plame and suggested that she orchestrated Wilson's trip to Africa, and then lied about those conversations to FBI investigators and the grand jury.
"Anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime," Fitzgerald said.
The indictment does make clear that White House officials were paying close attention to critics of the war, including Wilson, especially after he wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times titled "What I Didn't Find in Africa."
On July 12, 2003, while flying back from Norfolk, Va., on Air Force Two with Cheney and other officials, Libby discussed how to respond to media inquiries about Wilson's criticism, including one from Time magazine's Matthew Cooper.
Later that day, Libby told Cooper he had heard Plame was involved in sending Wilson to Niger. He also discussed Plame's employment at the CIA with Judith Miller of the New York Times, though not for the first time.
While the indictment shows that those at the upper echelons of the White House were concerned about criticism about their rationale for war, Fitzgerald said people looking for sweeping answers will be sorely disappointed.
Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 to investigate whether the leak of Plame's name violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime to reveal a covert agent's identity. It's unclear whether she was really a "covert" operative, but Fitzgerald said she was a CIA officer whose status was classified and not well known outside the intelligence community.
Experts say violations of the law, which has been used only once before, are extremely difficult to prove. Fitzgerald would have to show that Plame was a covert agent whose identity was protected by the law, and that someone knowingly unveiled her status.
Fitzgerald repeatedly defended his decision not to charge Libby with the leak and said Libby obstructed the investigation to the point where the grand jury could not clearly determine whether the law was broken.
Federal prosecutors frequently end investigations with charges that have occurred over the course of the inquiry instead of the crime they initially set out to examine. The charges can be just as serious, yet are easier to prove.
"It's the coverup that often takes them down," said John Fitzgibbons, a Tampa criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Friday, the reaction from Capitol Hill was predictable: On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared the indictment proof that the administration is more interested in maligning critics than protecting the nation.
Republicans essentially ignored the indictment. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Rep. Deborah Pryce, chairman of the House Republican Conference, issued glowing statements on the nation's surprisingly robust economic growth during the past quarter.
Wilson, in a statement read by his attorney, said the indictment "was an important step in the criminal justice process."
"I feel that my family was attacked for my speaking the truth about the events that led our country to war," he said.
[Last modified October 29, 2005, 01:46:07]
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