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

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trial Could Pit Libby's Interests Against Bush's

By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 1, 2005; A02

Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is expected to plead not guilty to charges that he lied and obstructed justice in the CIA leak probe when he is arraigned Thursday, setting the stage for a possible courtroom fight in which Libby's interests could collide with those of the Bush White House, according to several Republican officials.

Libby, who was charged with five felonies, is putting the finishing touches on a new legal and public relations team. It will argue in court and in public that he is guilty of nothing more than having a foggy memory and a hectic schedule, according to people close to him. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court before Judge Reggie B. Walton.

As Libby prepared for a court battle, Cheney made plans for life without his closest adviser. Cheney yesterday named longtime counsel David Addington as his new chief of staff and John Hannah as national security adviser. Both were questioned in the Libby indictment.

If Libby's case goes to trial, Addington and Hannah are only two of the many White House officials -- including Cheney himself -- who could be forced to testify about how they handled intelligence, dealt with the media and built the argument for the Iraq war, according to people close to the case. Republicans worry that Libby's court fight will force President Bush to deal with the prospect of top officials testifying and embarrassing disclosures of how the White House operates and treats critics.

It is also possible, they note, that Libby will strike a plea agreement and avert a public trial.

"Obviously, the best thing for the Republican Party is to have this all end as quickly as possible," said former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a close White House adviser. "But at the end of the day, you cannot ask a guy who all of us think is an upstanding and honorable guy to give up his legal rights."

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald initially set out to determine whether any administration official had illegally disclosed the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of an effort to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had harshly criticized the administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. After a 22-month investigation, a federal grand jury charged Libby with lying and obstructing justice during the probe.

Criminal defense lawyers say Cheney would probably be called as a witness in any trial, to verify and recount the conversation he had with Libby on June 12, 2003. At that time, Cheney allegedly told Libby that Plame worked in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division.

A senior White House adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, said the Bush team believes it dodged a bullet when Fitzgerald charged only Libby on Friday and then pointedly said in his news conference that the indictment should not be read as a condemnation of the war or its run-up.

The aide said a trial would be "mostly contained" to Cheney's office, adding that most senior Cheney aides "will have to testify." Still, a number of White House aides will probably be summoned to testify, which could be a political and practical distraction for Bush well into 2006, another person close to the White House said.

The senior adviser said the situation will become a much bigger problem if Rove is indicted.

Fitzgerald appeared prepared to indict Rove heading into last week for making false statements, according to three people close to the probe. But that changed during a private meeting last Tuesday between Fitzgerald and Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. It's not clear precisely what happened in that meeting, but two sources briefed on it said Luskin discussed new information that gave Fitzgerald "pause."

That evening, Fitzgerald's investigative team called Adam Levine, a member of the White House communications team at the time of the leak. An investigator questioned Levine about an e-mail Rove had sent Levine on July 11, 2003 -- the same day Rove discussed Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, according to Dan French, Levine's attorney.

The e-mail, which did not mention Plame, ended with Rove telling Levine to come see him. The investigator wanted details of that conversation, which took place within an hour or so of the Cooper-Rove chat, according to a person familiar with the situation. Levine told investigators they did not discuss Plame.

Part of Rove's defense has been that he was very busy man who simply forgot to tell investigators about his conversation with Cooper. If the e-mail "was exculpatory at all, it was most likely a small piece of a much larger mosaic of information," French said.

A source familiar with the discussion between Rove and Fitzgerald said the Tuesday meeting was about a lot more than "just an e-mail from Levine." He would not elaborate.

Rove remains a focus of the CIA leak probe. He has told friends it is possible he still will be indicted for providing false statements to the grand jury.

"Everyone thinks it is over for Karl and they are wrong," a source close to Rove said. The strategist's legal and political advisers "by no means think the part of the investigation concerning Karl is closed."

Cooper's attorney, Dick Sauber, said Fitzgerald certainly meant it when he told Luskin last week that Rove remains in legal jeopardy and under investigation. "It wouldn't surprise me knowing how careful he is and how much he doesn't want to be seen as trigger-happy, that he is going through each of those things [that Rove presented] and seeing if they can be verified or not," Sauber said.

"But no prosecutor wants to be embarrassed in court by something he didn't know. And no prosecutor, especially Pat Fitzgerald, wants to be seen as unfair -- especially in this kind of matter with so much at stake."

Yesterday, Wilson delivered a speech in which he said Rove should lose his job regardless of whether he knowingly used Plame's name or revealed her CIA connection. "This is a firing offense," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected that idea and said Rove was at work, engaged in meetings and enjoying Bush's full confidence. McClellan said the White House will not comment on the leak because the investigation is ongoing and it does not want to prejudice the Libby case.

McClellan, who famously told reporters and the public in 2003 that Libby and Rove had assured him they had no roles in the leak, also defended his own credibility. McClellan said he wishes he could say more, but that he is confident he has been honest and forthcoming. People close to the investigation said Libby and Rove misled the White House spokesman.

Fitzgerald's original grand jury was released from service Friday, after its term expired. Courthouse officials said he is likely to "borrow" a grand jury already convened to investigate additional crimes if needed, and could wrap up his investigation in less than two weeks. It is not uncommon for a prosecutor to quickly present his case to a new grand jury and ask for an indictment, they said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Salt Lake Tribune - CIA spy's husband says fire Karl Rove

Word to Bush: The former ambassador says the leak of his wife's identity was unforgivable
By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

WASHINGTON - Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador whose wife was outed as a CIA agent after he criticized the Bush administration, said Monday that he takes no pleasure in a senior White House official's indictment. Still, he called for the president to fire his top adviser, Karl Rove, who has not been criminally charged.
"And I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't believe Mr. Rove should be permitted to resign. I believe that this is a firing offense," Wilson said at a speech to the National Press Club, two blocks from the White House. "To be so cavalier in the handling of the secrets of this great nation really is an abuse of the public trust."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also has called for Rove to be fired.
Wilson's speech comes three days after Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted on felony charges of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice. He resigned the same day.
Rove, Bush's deputy chief of staff, has not been indicted but remains under investigation in connection with the leak of classified information about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, to reporters.
"It gives me no great pleasure that a senior official of our government, who swears an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, has now been accused of impeding a federal investigation into a leak of the national security of my country," Wilson said.
Wilson, who has said he is buying a home in Utah near Snowbasin Ski Resort, was sent by the CIA to the African nation of Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium, which could be used to make nuclear bombs. Wilson says the claims were false and he reported that back to the CIA, yet the president still cited the claims in the State of the Union speech. The White House later acknowledged the claim was incorrect.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has criticized Wilson as untrustworthy, citing a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that raised questions about Wilson's findings in Niger.
"This man does not deserve to be listened to," Hatch said in an interview following Libby's indictment. He called Wilson a publicity hound.
Hatch also said on CNN's Situation Room last week that there are "real questions about his activities" and that "I wouldn't particularly place much stock in Ambassador Wilson."
Wilson's attorney, Christopher Wolf, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday that he wasn't sure what Hatch was referring to and disagreed with his comments.
"The time for Wilson-bashing is over. . . . It never should have started," Wolf said. He then challenged Hatch with a line made famous as a counter to Senate redbaiting of the 1950s: ''Have you no sense of decency?"

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.

White House Rebuffs Calls for Shakeup - Yahoo! News

By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent

The White House on Monday rebuffed calls for a staff shakeup, the firing of Karl Rove and an apology by President Bush for the role of senior administration officials in the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Three days after the indictment and resignation of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, the administration said it would have to remain silent as long as there was an investigation of the leak and legal proceeding under way. Bush ignored reporters' questions during an Oval Office meeting with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

"We don't want to do anything from here that could prejudice the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Friday's indictment of I. Lewis Libby and the continuing investigation of Rove were a blow to Bush's already troubled presidency. The president's approval rating has tumbled to the lowest point since he took office and Americans are unhappy about high energy prices, the costly war in Iraq and economic uncertainties.

Republicans and Democrats alike have urged Bush to begin remaking his presidency by bringing in fresh advisers with new energy to replace members of a team worn down by years of campaigning and governing. But administration officials said that was not in the works.

Cheney promoted two of his advisers to fill the jobs handled by Libby, his confidant. David Addington, who has been the vice president's legal counsel, was named chief of staff, while John Hannah, his deputy national security adviser, was named national security adviser. Both men have been on Cheney's staff for more than four years.

Libby faces his first court appearance Thursday before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

"There's no discussion of staff changes beyond the usual vacancies that occur or beyond filling the vacancy that the vice president did as well," McClellan said.

While White House officials were relieved that Rove was not indicted, Democrats demanded that he be fired. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led the charge, calling for apologies from Bush and Cheney and saying the administration should explain the vice president's role in the unmasking of Plame.

The administration refused to respond. "If people want to try and politicize this process, that's their business," McClellan said.

McClellan was repeatedly asked to acknowledge that he was wrong in 2003 when he denied that Rove or Libby were involved in disclosing Plame's identity. He said he would not comment during the ongoing legal proceedings.