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

Monday, April 10, 2006

Libby case damages Bush administration

By Caroline Danielin Washington
Published: April 10 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 10 2006 03:00

Usually historians wait decades to get the inside accounts of what happens at the heart of the US government, but the legal skirmishes between lawyers representing Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice-president's former chief-of-staff, and Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor, are proving unusually revealing and damaging to the administration.

Last week, attention focused on a claim in one of the legal filings that President George W. Bush had authorised Mr Libby to leak parts of the national intelligence estimates (NIE), to build the case for war in Iraq. Although Mr Bush has the legal power to declassify documents, the revelation made his own assault on leaks look like hypocrisy.

The issue shows no sign of going away, with one prominent Republican, Senator Arlen Specter, yesterday calling on Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, vice-president, to "tell the American people exactly what happened".

Mr Fitzgerald's legal response on Thursday to Mr Libby's effort to obtain thousands of government documents also provided further evidence of the internecine battles within the administration and confirmed there was a wider White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson, the diplomat who investigated whether Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

Mr Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in connection with the inquiry into the leaking of information about Valerie Plame, a CIA agent and Mr Wilson's wife. Mr Libby's lawyers have sought to broaden the case to suggest that the leaking of Ms Plame's name was a "peripheral issue" in the context of the broader debate about the Iraq war.

On several occasions the filing confirms that other administration officials remain under scrutiny. Although Mr Fitzgerald said he did not intend to call Karl Rove, Mr Bush's chief political strategist, to give testimony in Mr Libby's trial, he remains under investigation alongside other aides.

Combating Mr Libby's demand for documents that he claimed prove he was not part of a wider White House effort, Mr Fitzgerald notes: "As a practical matter, there are no documents showing the absence of a plot, and it is unclear how any document custodian would set out to find documents showing an 'absence of a plot'."

The filing also exposes the secretive world inside the administration, with the vice-president's office keeping secrets from Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser.

One surreal appendix refers to Mr Libby's leaking of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. "[The] defendant fails to mention that he consciously decided not to make Mr Hadley aware of the fact that the defendant himself had already been disseminating the NIE by leaking it to reporters while Mr Hadley sought to get it formally declassified."

Disagreements between the vice-president's office and the State Department are also echoed in the filing. Mr Libby's lawyers suggest that testimony from Marc Grossman, former undersecretary, may be biased by "his concern for the institutional interests of the State Department".