Cheney aide indicted

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff resigned Friday after he was indicted on charges of obstructing a grand jury investigation and lying about his actions that blew the CIA cover of an Iraq war critic’s wife. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby became the first high-ranking White House official in decades to be criminally charged while still in office. A second key figure in the two-year CIA leak investigation, presidential strategist Karl Rove, was spared from criminal charges for the time being. Libby wasn’t indicted specifically for the leak, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald left little doubt that he believed Cheney’s top aide learned Valerie Plame’s classified identity from the CIA, State Department and his own boss and then revealed it to reporters. “It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security,” the prosecutor said. “Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter.” Though Cheney was one of the top government officials to tell Libby about Plame’s secret work for the CIA before it was leaked to reporters, Fitzgerald said there was nothing wrong with that contact. “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act,” he said. Libby promised to challenge the charges vigorously and said he was “confident that at the end of this process, I will be completely and totally exonerated.” The 22-page indictment was the latest blow in one of the darkest weeks of the Bush presidency, which also saw the 2,000th U.S. military death in Iraq and the embarrassing withdrawal of Harriet Miers as Bush’s Supreme Court nominee. Bush, whose approval rating is near the lowest point of his presidency, praised Libby’s years of government service but acknowledged the “ongoing legal proceedings are serious.” “In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial,” the president said. Fitzgerald’s investigation is nearing an end, and the grand jury he used for the past two years expired Friday. But he said, “It’s not over,” declining to address Rove’s fate. The prosecutor is still weighing whether to charge Bush’s closest adviser with false statements, lawyers said. Friday’s charges stemmed from a two-year investigation into whether Rove, Libby or any other administration officials knowingly revealed Plame’s identity in summer 2003 to punish her husband, Joseph Wilson, for his criticism of the Bush administration’s use of prewar intelligence on Iraq. In the end, like so many other Washington scandals, prosecutors zeroed in on an alleged cover-up. Libby, 55, was charged with five felonies alleging obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. Fitzgerald suggested that proving Libby lied to the grand jury would be an easier case to make than showing he intentionally revealed a secret officer’s cover. Specifically, the prosecutors alleged that Libby concocted a false story that he got Plame’s name from reporters and passed it on to others when in fact he got the information from classified sources. “Mr. Libby’s story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true. It was false,” the prosecutor said. “And he lied about it afterward, under oath, repeatedly.” Unlike figures in past scandals who resigned before they were criminally charged, Libby waited until moments after Friday’s indictment before stepping down. He became the highest- ranking White House official to resign under indictment in the three decades since Vice President Spiro Agnew stepped down over a criminal case during the Watergate era. Cheney said he accepted the resignation with regret because Libby is “one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known.” The closest to bright news Friday for the White House was word from Rove’s attorney that the presidential confidant was not being indicted along with Libby. Fitzgerald has been looking for weeks at whether Rove gave false testimony during his four grand jury appearances. Rove’s lawyer recently waged a furious effort to convince the prosecutor that any misstatements were unintentional or were corrected. “The special counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he has made no decision about whether or not to bring charges,” attorney Robert Luskin said. “We are confident that when the special counsel finishes his work, he will conclude that Mr. Rove has done nothing wrong.” Prosecutors identified Rove in the Libby indictment only as “Official A,” recounting a conversation he had with Libby about Plame and Wilson in the days just before the CIA operative’s identity was revealed. The mention could make Rove a witness at any Libby trial. Libby’s indictment paves the way for a trial that could renew attention on the faulty rationale the administration used for going to war against Iraq – the erroneous assertion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Libby is considered Cheney’s alter ego, a chief architect of the war with Iraq. A trial would give the public a rare glimpse into Cheney’s influential role in the West Wing and his behind-the-scenes lobbying for the war. The vice president, who prizes secrecy, could be called as a witness. Democrats suggested the indictment was just the tip of the iceberg. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the case was “about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president.” Hoping to contain the damage, some Republicans distanced themselves from Libby. Others said the legal system should run its course. “It’s time to stop the leaks and spin and turn Washington into one big recovery meeting where people say what they mean and mean what they say,” said Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said through a spokesman that the Senate won’t investigate the CIA leak. Bush ordered U.S. troops to war in March 2003, saying Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program posed a grave and immediate threat to the United States. When no such weapons were found, the administration came under increased criticism for using faulty intelligence to make its case for war. It was during the height of that debate that Plame’s identity as a covert CIA officer was leaked in July 2003. Her name was published just a little over a week after her husband, a former ambassador, wrote a newspaper opinion piece suggesting the administration had twisted prewar intelligence, and describing how he had gone to Africa in 2002 to check on claims Saddam had tried to buy nuclear materials. Wilson couldn’t validate the uranium claim but Bush later used it anyway. Wilson alleged that the leak of his wife’s name was retaliation for his criticism, and he said Friday, “When an indictment is delivered to the front door of the White House, the office of the president is defiled.” The indictment alleges Libby began digging for details about Wilson well before the former ambassador went public July 6, 2003. Libby made his first inquiries about Wilson’s travel to Niger in late May 2003, and by June 11, Libby was told by a CIA official that Wilson’s wife worked for the agency and might have sent him on the trip. Libby also heard it from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, the indictment said. On June 12, 2003, the indictment alleged, Libby heard directly from Cheney that Plame worked for the spy agency. “Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA,” Fitzgerald said. A short time later, the indictment said, Libby began spreading information to reporters, starting with The New York Times’ Judith Miller on June 23. The indictment said a substantial number of people in the White House knew about Plame’s CIA status before the publication of Robert Novak’s column on July 14, 2003 – the first public mention – including former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was mentioned by title but not by name in the legal filing. Among the false statements Libby is accused of making is that he learned of Plame’s identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert. In fact, Fitzgerald said, Libby knew it long before that conversation and Russert didn’t even discuss it with him. One of the dramatic parts of the two-year investigation was Fitzgerald’s successful attempt – which reached all the way to the Supreme Court – to force several reporters to reveal their confidential sources. Miller, in fact, spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify. Fitzgerald said Friday he wasn’t spoiling for a “First Amendment showdown” with the news media but believed reporters were essential witnesses in this case. “I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely. It should be an extraordinary case,” he said. “But if you’re dealing with a crime – and what’s different here is the transaction is between a person and a reporter – they’re the eyewitness to the crime.”last_img read more