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

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trying times for White House - Yahoo! News

By Linda Feldmann and Warren Richey, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

The indictment of a top White House aide has left Washington asking the classic second-term question: Can a struggling president make a comeback?

George W. Bush has more than three years to go, and a big agenda.

For now, though, attention is riveted on the political body blow he sustained last Friday: the five-count indictment in the CIA leak case that Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald laid out against I. Lewis Libby. With that, "Scooter" Libby takes his place in the gallery of powerful Washington figures throughout history who have landed in legal jeopardy.

Mr. Libby, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, may not be found guilty of any of the counts: one for obstruction of justice, two for perjury, and two for making false statements to FBI agents. But his case stains an administration that came to office promising to restore honor and integrity to the White House. The indictment also came during the week in which the 2,000th American died in Iraq - in a case that has fanned the controversy over the administration's rationale for the 2003 invasion.

The news from Mr. Fitzgerald could have been worse. President Bush's political right-hand man, Karl Rove, had been informed he may be indicted, but wasn't. Still, he's not out of the woods yet. Fitzgerald's investigation into the allegedly unauthorized exposure of a CIA agent's identity continues. At his press conference Friday, the special counsel said the "substantial bulk" of the inquiry is finished, though it is unclear where the probe may yet lead.

What is clear is that Washington has its newest example of the old saw, "It's not the crime, it's the coverup." The five counts Libby faces all center on actions that Fitzgerald says interfered with the investigation, not on the core question - whether Libby took part in the "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

"It is a big message to Washington officials that if you only would come clean you would probably be OK," says Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University.

Still, legal scholars agreed with Fitzgerald that the charges returned by the grand jury are serious - and Republicans needed look no further than their own statements during President Clinton's legal travails to be reminded about the seriousness of lying under oath.

"It is a felony; anybody who is facing these kind of charges is in trouble," says Paul Butler, a law professor at George Washington University and former federal prosecutor.

For the five counts, Libby faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines, though if found guilty, he would probably face a lesser punishment, from probation or house arrest to five years in prison and a fine, legal analysts say. Libby could also avoid a trial by making a plea bargain, but analysts don't see that as likely.

Some analysts say there is the possibility of a presidential pardon. "Ultimately, President Bush is going to pardon Libby anyway, if he is ever convicted, so the bottom line is this may be all for naught," says Joseph diGenova, a Washington lawyer and former US attorney.

Some Republicans focused on the fact that Fitzgerald was unable to secure an indictment for the disclosure of classified data, even though, in his explanation of the case, he made clear that he believes Ms. Plame's employment with the CIA was classified until July 14, 2003. On that date, columnist Robert Novak published a piece referring to her as a CIA operative. One of the remaining mysteries of the case is who originally leaked to Mr. Novak. That person is identified in the indictment only as "Official A."

Ms. Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had published a newspaper column on July 6, 2003, describing a trip to Niger he had taken at the behest of the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had tried to purchase uranium, presumably to make nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson accused the Bush administration of "twisting" intelligence to justify invading Iraq. But even before Wilson's column appeared, Libby had begun to research the former diplomat's trip and discuss the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

The Libby indictment registered high on the political Richter scale. Washington over the years has had its share of indictments, but rarely of someone this close to the Oval Office. To refer to him as just the vice president's chief of staff understates his power. He was the closest aide to the most powerful vice president in history, a neocon stalwart who helped shape US foreign policy and pushed for the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

In a statement Friday, Mr. Cheney called Libby "one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known."

The Libby indictment capped what had to be one of the worst weeks of Bush's presidency, despite some bright spots. Bush's nomination of a new chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was well received, but quickly overtaken by the next bit of bad news.

The crossing of the symbolic threshold of 2,000 American deaths in Iraq sparked a wave of coverage of the toll the Iraq war has taken, even as a final tally also showed the passage of the new Iraqi Constitution.

On Thursday, Bush's embattled Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination. And on Friday came the long-dreaded indictment.

Bush is expected to announce his next high court nominee soon, an event that will create another news point far from Libby. If he makes a choice that satisfies his conservative base but does not inflame the left, he can show the political world he's back on his game - but analysts are hard put to identify such a candidate.

Still, Libby's legal woes are sure to remain in the news for months to come - probably right up to the 2006 midterms, an uncomfortable political fact for Republicans seeking election or reelection.


  • At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    A CIA officer’s name was blown, there was an apparent leak of information to friendly reporters in the national media, national security was at stake, a news reporter was eventually jailed, an administration mover and shaker called: “Scooter” has been indicted for possible obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements, and the federal judge assigned to the case was appointed by the same executive branch and had previously served in the White House Media Affairs Office.

    Is there just too much by happenstance for this to be just a coincidental thing?

    What a saga, sometimes humorous, sometimes crazy and gripping, but in fact, really serious, with each new segment so far finishing with a cliff hanger leaving the country eager for more information. It’s a tangled wed of lies, cover-up, judgment of others, and corruption at the highest level of government (an unnecessary war with Iraq). It involves the po-po (the FBI), an assistant to the president of the United States, the chief of staff to the vice president, an assistant to the vice president for national security affairs, and a ruff neck (keeps it real and knows the streets) judge who once admitted as a junior in high school he discovered his father’s guns and straight razor and started sneaking them out of the house tucked into his pants (one of the fights escalated from punching to a boyhood friend being stabbed nine times with an ice pick). There’s also the highly unusual (August 2005) fight where this same federal judge wrestled a man to the ground during a traffic incident on the Chevy Chase Circle (Washington, D.C.).

    Maybe it’s just a part of the George W. Bush legacy? Maybe it’s just an element of indeterminacy in human actions which often works in favor of true disclosure? Nonetheless, both political parties would prefer for their own reasons not to pursue the truth, and the media will be content to go along with the typical hyperbole (cover-up), and the greater peril will be to the public’s confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.

    The American judiciary was placed into the frame work of our system so that no one branch of government could become too powerful and exercise its powers unduly either over the other branches or the American people. For many the separation of power has basically disappeared.

    I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, although indicted by a federal grand jury on five charges related to the CIA leak probe (one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of making false statements), appears to be confident that at the end of this process he “will be completely and totally exonerated.” Karl Rove, president Bush’s top political adviser, who testified four times before the grand jury and wasn’t indicted (but not yet out of legal jeopardy), said through his attorney Robert Luskin, “We are confident that when the special counsel finishes his work, he will conclude that Mr. Rove has done nothing wrong.”

    But, how can they be so confident? Both Libby and Rove as senior government officials with responsibilities for national security matters (entitling them to access to classified information) were obligated by applicable laws and regulations, including Title 18 United States Code, Section 793, and executive Order 12958 (as modified by executive order 13292) not to disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information, and otherwise required to exercise proper care to safe guard classified information against unauthorized disclosure.

    At issue is Joseph Wilson, who was married to Valerie Plame Wilson. Mrs. Wilson was employed by the CIA and her employment status was classified. Prior to July 14, 2003, her affiliation with the CIA was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community. In 2002, after an inquiry to the CIA by the vice president concerning certain intelligence reporting, the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi effort to acquire uranium yellow cake, a processed form of uranium ore. Wilson orally reported his findings to the CIA upon his return.

    On or about January 28, 2003, president Bush delivered his State of the Union Address which included “sixteen words” to justify war with Iraq asserting that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. But as part of the American system of check-and-balances on May 6, 2003, the “New York Times” published a column by Nicholas Kristof of which disputed the accuracy of the “sixteen words” president Bush used in the State of the Union Address. The column reported that the ambassador sent to investigate the allegations had reported back to the CIA and State Department in early 2002 that the allegations were unequivocally wrong and based on forged documents (It’s just impossible to operate a clear conspiracy where all the pieces fit together).

    On or about June 23 and the morning of July 8, 2003, Libby met with “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller and discussed Wilson’s trip and his belief that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. When the conversation turned to the subject of Joseph Wilson during the second meeting, Libby asked that the information Libby provided on the topic of Wilson be attributed to a “former Hill staffer” rather than to a “senior administration official.” An under secretary of state had orally advised Libby on or about June 11 or 12, 2003, while in the White House that, in sum and substance, former ambassador and career state department official Joseph Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Additionally, the vice president himself had also advised Libby that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA in the counter-proliferation division.

    Shortly thereafter, on July 10 or July 11, 2003, Libby spoke with Rowe, who advised Libby of a conversation Rowe had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Rowe that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.

    On September 26, 2003, the Department of Justice authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to commence a criminal investigation into the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information regarding the disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA to various reporters in the Spring of 2003. A major focus of the grand jury investigation was to determine which government officials had disclosed to the media prior to July 14, 2003 information concerning the affiliation of Valerie Wilson with the CIA, and the nature, timing, extent and purpose of such disclosures, as well as whether any official making such a disclosure did so know that the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA was classified information (conducted an investigation into possible violations of federal criminal laws, including Title 50, United States Code, Section 421 – Disclosure of the identity of covert intelligence personnel; and, Title 18, United States Code, Sections: 793 Improper Disclosure of National Defense Information, 1001 False Statements, 1503 Obstruction of Justice, and 1623 Perjury).

    As part of the criminal investigation, Libby was interviewed by special agents of the FBI on or about October 14 and November 26, 2003, each time in the presence of his counsel. But, during the interviews, Libby is accused of lying about material facts related to the disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA. Libby is said to have knowingly and corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, and impede the due administration of justice, namely proceedings before the grand jury, by misleading and deceiving the grand jury as to when, and the manner and means by which, Libby acquired and subsequently disclosed to the media information concerning the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA. He is also said to have knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation in a manner within the jurisdiction of the federal bureau of investigation. If convicted, the crimes charged in the indictment carry the following maximum penalties: Obstruction of Justice – 10 years in prison; Making False Statements and Perjury – each 5 years; and each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

    A George W. Bush appointee will determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed, if any. Judge Reggie B. Walton, with a minimal academic performance in high school, poor grades in college, and very poor showing on the law boards, enrolled into the CLEO program and somehow managed to earn an academic scholarship to American University College of Law. He graduated in 1974 and took a job as a public defender in Philly (Philadelphia). In 1976, he left that job for a position at the D.C.’s United States Attorney’s office. Here, he met Bob Bennett (brother of William Bennett Drug Czar appointed by George H.W. Bush) and in an attempt to establish credibility on minority issues the republicans appointed Walton to the number two drug czar position. For the next two years that followed, Walton traveled the country spreading the republican anti drug message to black communities.

    In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed Walton to the D.C. Superior Court. But for unexplained reasons in 1989, Judge Walton moved to the White House Office of Media Affairs. Only to be appointed again in 1991 by George H.W. Bush to the D.C. Superior Court. President Bush appointed him to the federal bench (District of Columbia) on October 29, 2001.

    Please note Judge Walton’s tenure in the White House Communications Office (considered an element of the continuing campaign). The office often calls local radio stations, television stations, and newspapers daily to see if they’d be interested in an interview with an administrative figure. It also has a supporting element (research units) available not only for the communications head but to the chief of staff and other white house senior staffers.

    Since his appointment to the bench, Judge Walton has been assigned the majority of the most troubling legal matters involving the Bush administration. An appointed judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, but Judge Walton willingness to often speak (for the administration it seems) on highly charged partisan issues further shakes public confidence in the judiciary. For example, following the death of Terri Schiavo, Judge Walton was dispatched to speak with NPR’s Ed Gordon about what he considered liberal “activism” in the U.S. Courts.

    In 1998, the republican appointee enumerated some of the standard racist conceptions often voiced by the right wing, telling Judy Cresanta and Kari Larney of the Nevada Policy Research Institute “bad parenting, bad neighborhoods and guns” fuels the problem with youthful offenders. However, in the book “Black Judges on Justice” Judge Walton had a black moment (said something really gangsta) and did admit as one of his major frustrations while working with the Bush administration, his inability to convince administration officials of the fact that fighting crime is ineffective without attacking social causes of crime.

    Judge Walton is the federal judge who threw out a lawsuit filed by a whistle-blower who alleged security lapses in the FBI’s translator program, ruling that Sibel Edmond’s claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security. He said that he couldn’t explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets and disrupt diplomatic relations. Edmond’s lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, called the decision “Another example of the executive branch’s abuse of secrecy to prevent accountability.” Ms. Edmond, a former contract linguist, alleged in her lawsuit that she was fired in March 2002 after she complained to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations. She contended that she told the FBI an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security. Although the government’s lawyers met with Judge Walton at least twice privately, Edmond had claimed the republican appointee dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her attorneys.

    In September 2005, Judge Walton dismissed two claims, but left open the possibility Steven Hatfill, a scientist once named by the Department of Justice as a possible suspect in the anthrax-letter attacks of 2001, could hold officials accountable (count seeking a declaration that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and others unconstitutionally deprived him of employment opportunities). A fourth claim seeking monetary damage from the federal government for alleged privacy act violations, also remains alive, but two counts to hold defendants individually responsible were dismissed. The judge had delayed the case saying that he wanted the Department of Justice investigation of the issue to proceed without interference from Hatfill’s civil suit. Many observers of the investigation dismissed the judge’s pronouncements about the case – the government had been periodically advertising impending breakthroughs since just about the time the spore-ridden letters were mailed out, some critics pointed out. Mr. Hatfill, a bio-terrorism expert, contends his reputation was ruined when law enforcement officials called him a “person of interest.” Hatfill once worked as a researcher at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Frederick, Md. At one time the FBI had Hatfill under 24-hour surveillance.

    Judge Walton also ruled that a Missouri charity financed terrorism and is connected to a similarly named organization in Sudan, dismissing a lawsuit filed by the Islamic American Relief Agency – USA, which is based in Columbia, Mo. The charity had sought to thaw its assets which the treasury department froze in 2004. Lawyers for the Missouri charity had denied any link to terrorism and had said the charity is entirely separate from the Sudanese organization. Judge Walton said his decision was based on both public records and classified documents. Shareef Akeel, a Michigan lawyer representing the charity said nothing in the public part of the record showed that the charity had sent money out of the country for illegal purposes.

    In a case involving a request for documents on the Oklahoma City bombing which resulted in convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Judge Walton held that FOIA plaintiff (


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