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

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Top Bush aide to appear in court in CIA leak case - Yahoo! News

Indicted White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby appears in court for the first time in the CIA leak case that will effectively put aspects of the US drive to war with Iraq on trial.

Libby, who quit as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff when he was charged last week by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, is due at an arraignment hearing before Judge Reggie Walton in Washington at 10:30 a.m. (1530 GMT).

He faces one count of obstruction of justice, two of perjury and two of making false statements but has denied all wrongdoing, and is expected to enter a not guilty plea.

As well as the matter of pleas, an arraignment case gives a judge the chance to set bail conditions and to set the date for future hearings.

Fitzgerald laid the charges as part of a probe into which Bush administration officials leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, who's husband, ex diplomat Joseph Wilson, was a vocal critic of the Iraq war.

The affair rocked President George W. Bush's administration, at a time when the White House was taking political fire on multiple fronts over the war in Iraq, the Hurricane Katrina debacle, and rising gasoline prices.

Bush's top political advisor Karl Rove was not charged, but has been told he is still under investigation in the affair, which has exposed the US rationale for the war to new scrutiny.

Some observers feel that Libby may eventually enter a plea bargain deal with prosecutors, since any trial could be politically embarrassing for Bush, and see top White House figures like Cheney forced to take the witness stand.

Bush's National Security advisor Stephen Hadley Wednesday described Libby, one of the most trusted men in the Bush White House, who also served as assistant to the president, as a "fine person."

"He served the president and the vice president well. There is now an indictment. And he is entitled to the benefit of the presumption of innocence," Hadley said.

"I worked with Scooter very closely. I will miss him as a colleague and as a friend."

The White House has tried to reset the political agenda after last Friday's indictment, and on Monday hoped the nomination of Bush's latest Supreme Court pick Samuel Alito would cover the fallout from the CIA case.

But Democrats sprung a trap on Tuesday and sent the Senate into a closed door session to discuss Republican stalling over a committee probe into intelligence used by the White House to justify the war.

Libby's appearance on Thursday is likely to spark a media frenzy -- and more unflattering headlines for the White House, as Bush tries to bounce back from the worst opinion poll ratings of his five-year presidency.

Judge Walton, ironically, was nominated to the US District Court in Washington DC by Bush himself, in 2001, after serving his father, the first president George Bush, as senior White House advisor on crime.

Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon and national security council expert on Africa, was sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims Iraq tried to buy 'yellow cake' uranium for nuclear bombs.

He said the mission grew out of doubts expressed by Vice President Dick Cheney's office in CIA intelligence on the alleged shipments, which, if proven, would have been powerful evidence against Iraq.

Wilson concluded it was highly doubtful such transfers took place. But the claim still found its way into Bush's annual State of the Union address in January 2003.


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