Lewis "Scooter" Libby indicted on five charges

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Friday, October 28, 2005

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., chief of staff to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, resigned Friday following indictment on five federal felony charges.

Mr. Libby is charged with obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury to a Grand Jury, and two counts of making false statements to the FBI in the Justice Department's investigation into the Plame leak. Mr. Libby's resignation was accepted by Vice President Cheney. President Bush also accepted Mr. Libby's resignation as Assistant to the President.

The indictment centers on Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony that he learned from media sources that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked under cover for the CIA. The Justice Department says that Mr. Libby knew of Plame's covert status from at least four government officials, including Vice President Cheney, in the month prior to his talks with the press, but that he sought to hide that knowledge from the investigation.

No charges were filed against White House advisor Karl Rove, but he remains under scrutiny in the on-going two year investigation led by Special Counselor Patrick Fitzgerald. The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported that late Friday, three people close to the investigation stated that the individual referred to in Fitzgerald's record as "Official A" was actually Karl Rove, the so called "senior official in the White House" who allegedly informed Libby on July 10 or 11 of 2003 that Plame was a CIA operative. The Washington Post is reporting that Rove's "fate" will be known soon.

All five charges stem from three conversations Mr. Libby had with reporters about Valerie Plame in 2003 between July 10 and 12:

  • On or about July 10, Libby spoke with Tim Russert of NBC. Mr. Libby testified that Mr. Russert asked him if he knew Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and that Mr. Russert told him all reporters knew about Mr. Wilson's wife.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Russert did not ask Mr. Libby what he knew about Wilson's wife, nor did Mr. Russert tell him that all the reporters knew it. The indictment says that Libby knew through governmental sources that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
  • On or about July 12, Mr. Libby spoke with Matthew Cooper of TIME magazine. Mr. Libby testified he told Mr. Cooper that he heard from other reporters that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but he didn't know for sure whether or not she did.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby did not talk about other reporters, but simply confirmed for Mr. Cooper that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
  • Mr. Libby spoke with Judith Miller of The New York Times. Mr. Libby again testified that the conversation was about other reporters, and he told Ms. Miller he was unsure Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
The indictment claims that Libby did not talk about other reporters, and did not advise Ms. Miller he was unsure about Mr. Wilson's wife.

In a nationally televised press conference announcing the indictment, Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald likened the alleged falsehoods of Mr. Libby's testimony to sand being thrown in the face of a baseball umpire. The obstruction of justice count alleges that Mr. Libby made false statements while testifying before the grand jury, and attempted to mislead and deceive the grand jury by doing so.

The two false statement charges relate to FBI interviews conducted in October and November 2003. There is one charge for the July 10, 2003 interview with Mr. Russert, and another for the July 12, 2003 interview with Cooper. One perjury charges alleges Mr. Libby lied to the grand jury about his conversation with Mr .Russert. The second alleges he was lying when he testified to the grand jury that he had told reporters "I hear from other reporters Wilson's wife works for the CIA."

If convicted on all counts, Mr. Libby faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine. In a written statement delivered by his lawyer, Mr. Libby said "today is a sad day for me and my family" but is confident that he will be "completely and totally exonerated."

Vice President Dick Cheney called Mr. Libby in a written statement one "of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known" and stressed that he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

President George W. Bush called the investigation "serious" and said that Mr. Libby "worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country."

Background

In September 2003, CIA Director George Tenet requested a Justice Department probe of the possibility that high officials of the Bush administration leaked to journalists the secret CIA identity of Plame. In December 2003, Patrick J. Fitzgerald was appointed Special Counsel in charge of investigating the leak of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. A grand jury was convened to hear testimony from reporters and members of the Bush administration. The federal indictment suggests that Libby lied about what he told reporters Tim Russert, Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller. "When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

In February 2002, Joseph Wilson was asked to travel to Niger by the Central Intelligence Agency in order to investigate claims that Niger had sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq, a substance that - after a lengthy purification process - can be used to make a nuclear weapon.

On the 28th of January, 2003, President George Bush stated in his State of the Union address that, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Much of the President's address was focused on building support for the War in Iraq, on the grounds that Iraq had been developing Weapons of Mass Destruction, and this statement was a key part of the rationale to justify going to war.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times attacking the validity of Bush's assertion by describing how his experiences in Africa had led him to believe no such sale had taken place. He went on to accuse the Bush Administration of manipulating intelligence data in order to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq. Ultimately, the White House was forced to retract the statement regarding Niger in the State of the Union address.

On July 14th 2003, journalist Robert Novak published a news article that disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Novak attributed the information about Plame's identity to "senior administration officials." After Novak's article was published, other news reporters speculated that Plame's identity as a CIA operative was leaked by the Bush administration in an effort to punish Mr. Wilson for his public criticism of the administration. Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson are married, although Valerie had been using her maiden name "Plame" in her role as a covert operative rather than using her married name.

In June 2004, President George W. Bush was questioned about the leak by the Justice Department, but not in front of the Grand Jury. Bush first promised to fire anyone in his administration who leaked the CIA identity of Plame, then later qualified this as meaning that he would only act if it could be shown that a crime was committed.

With the Grand Jury scheduled to conclude its term in October 2005, reporter Judith Miller was jailed in July 2005 for refusing to reveal the source of the Plame leak. After 85 days in jail, Miller finally testified before the Grand Jury. Several reporters, including Miller and Matthew Cooper, identified Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby as Bush administration sources who revealed Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative.

The indictment comes at the same time as allegations mount that Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff Libby withheld crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee as it was investigating the intelligence failure in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2004. Rep. Jerrold Nadler has requested to expand Fitzgerald's investigation to clear up if the actions in the CIA leak were just a part in a larger scheme to deceive Congress into authorizing war, who was involved and whether their actions were criminal.

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