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

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

White House rallies behind Cheney - Yahoo! News

By Adam Entous

Bracing for indictments against top aides, the White House on Tuesday rallied behind Vice President Dick Cheney but refused to answer questions about whether he told his chief of staff about the CIA officer at the heart of a two-year leak investigation.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan would neither confirm nor deny a report in The New York Times that Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, first learned about the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, in a conversation with the vice president on June 12, 2003, weeks before her identity became public in a newspaper column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.

President George W. Bush ignored a shouted question about Cheney's role amid growing signs that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will seek charges as early as Wednesday, when the grand jury is scheduled to reconvene.

In addition to Libby, Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, could be indicted, as well as others, lawyers close to the case said.

Plame's identity as covert operative was leaked after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence on Iraq. Wilson based the criticism in part on a CIA-sponsored mission he made to Africa in 2002 to check out an intelligence report that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.

The Times report about the previously undisclosed conversation put a spotlight on Cheney and raised questions about assertions the vice president made in a September 2003 television interview that he did not know Wilson or who sent him on the trip to Niger.

Administration officials had sought to cast Wilson's trip to Niger as a boondoggle arranged by his wife, and in so doing, revealed her identity, people close to the case said. Wilson said the CIA sent him on the mission after Cheney's office sought more information about the uranium deal.

Asked if Cheney always tells the truth to the American people, McClellan said: "Yes." He dismissed as "ridiculous" a question about whether Bush stood by Cheney's account of his role in the matter. "The vice president, like the president, is a straight-forward, plain-spoken person," McClellan said.

Earlier, the spokesman said: "The vice president is doing a great job as a member of this administration."


The Times account of the June 12, 2003, conversation also appeared to run counter to Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he first learned about Wilson's wife from reporters.

Fitzgerald is said by lawyers to be considering bringing charges against Libby for making false statements and possibly obstruction of justice.

Libby's notes indicate that Cheney got his information about Plame from George Tenet, who was then the CIA director, according to The Times.

The notes did not show Cheney knew the name of Wilson's wife. But they did show Cheney knew and told Libby she was employed by the CIA and that she may have helped arrange her husband's trip to Niger.

A Republican source with ties to Cheney said there was nothing illegal about Cheney and Libby discussing Wilson and his wife since they have security clearances.

But it could be a crime to pass along that information to the public.

While Fitzgerald could still charge administration officials with knowingly outing Plame to retaliate against her husband, lawyers in the case said the prosecutor appeared more likely to seek charges for easier-to-prove crimes such as making false statements, obstruction of justice and disclosing classified information.

Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Randall Samborn, Fitzgerald's spokesman, declined to comment.


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