News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cheney's office at center of CIA leak indictment - Yahoo! News

By James Vicini and Adam Entous

The indictment of former top White House aide Lewis Libby in the CIA leak investigation will put Vice President Dick Cheney's office at the center of court proceedings, with the potential of a politically damaging trial for the beleaguered Bush administration.

Libby, who resigned on Friday as Cheney's chief of staff after being indicted for obstructing justice, perjury and lying, is expected to make his first court appearance in the next week or so for an arraignment.

The indictment means the next stage of the case will play out in open court, in contrast to the secret two-year grand jury investigation directed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into the leak of a covert CIA operative's identity.

Libby's indictment represented the first criminal charges arising from the investigation, and Fitzgerald said the probe would continue. One key figure still under scrutiny is President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, lawyers involved in the case said.

At the arraignment, Libby, 55, who faces up to 30 years in prison, is expected to plead not guilty, and the judge in the case could set a trial date.

Lawyers involved in the case said Cheney himself and other top White House officials named in the indictment could be called as witnesses. A trial could expose the role played by Cheney's secretive office in seeking to discredit a leading critic of the intelligence used to justify the Iraq war.

"It's a horrible situation for the vice president. Libby has been so close to Cheney," said one of the lawyers involved in the case. "If there's one thing that's got to be open, it is a criminal trial and the vice president is a key witness."

Another lawyer said it is clear from the indictment that any trial would have to delve into the private conversations between Cheney and Libby about the CIA operative, Valerie Plame, and her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson. Wilson had challenged the administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.


The prosecutors will seek to prove that Libby's statements are lies by going through a very detailed chronology of the events that occurred in the vice president's office, including conversations with Cheney, one of the lawyers said.

"It has the potential to be politically damaging," the lawyer said. "What exactly were they doing in that office in their discussions about Wilson?"

According to the indictment, Libby learned from Cheney himself on June 12, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the CIA.

The White House is already reeling from the mounting U.S. death toll from the Iraq war, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and from the withdrawal of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, under fire from Bush's conservative power base.

The charges accused Libby of lying to FBI agents who interviewed him on October 14, 2003, and November 26, 2003, committing perjury while testifying under oath to the grand jury twice in March 2004, and engaging in obstruction of justice by impeding the grand jury's investigation.

Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, promised a vigorous defense to the charges. "As lawyers, we recognize that a person's recollection of events will not always match those of other people, particularly when they are asked to testify months after the events occurred," Tate said.

"This is especially true in the hectic rush of issues and events at a busy time for our government," he said.

Wilson's attorney has been considering whether to bring a civil lawsuit against Libby and any others who may have been involved in the leak of his wife's identity.

Looking ahead, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "At this point it's important that we don't prejudice the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial."

He added, "I think the special counsel indicated in his remarks he wanted to move as quickly as possible. I think all of us would like to see that happen."


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