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Friday, October 28, 2005

Libby Resigns His Post; Rove's Fate Remains Unresolved - New York Times

Libby Resigns His Post; Rove's Fate Remains Unresolved - New York TimesOctober 28, 2005
Libby Resigns His Post; Rove's Fate Remains Unresolved

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 - I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and one of the most powerful figures in the Bush administration, was formally accused today of lying and obstruction of justice in an inquiry into the unmasking of a covert C.I.A. officer.

A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Libby on one count of obstruction, two counts of perjury and two of making false statements in the course of an investigation that raised questions about the administration's rationale for going to war against Iraq, how it treats critics and political opponents and whether high White House officials shaded the truth. The charges are felonies.

Mr. Libby was not charged directly with revealing the identity of a C.I.A. undercover operative, the accusation that brought about the investigation in the first place.

Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, was not charged today, but will remain under investigation, Mr. Rove's lawyer and people briefed officially about the case said. In a news conference this afternoon, the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, declined to talk about Mr. Rove but said that his investigation showed that Mr. Libby had told reporters about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, and that "he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly."

Mr. Libby resigned just before the indictment was handed up. The charges lodged today could spell professional ruin for the 55-year-old lawyer, unless he is acquitted or the charges are dismissed. In a statement issued by his lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, Mr. Libby said: "I am confident that at the end of this process I will be completely and totally exonerated," according to the Reuters news agency.

Vice President Cheney said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation with "deep regret."

"In our system of government an accused person is presumed innocent until a contrary finding is made by a jury after an opportunity to answer the charges and a full airing of the facts," the statement said. "Mr. Libby is entitled to that opportunity."

Obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the charges of perjury and making false statements have maximum terms of 5 years. Each of the five counts can also be punished with a $250,000 fine. Perjury is lying under oath, to a jury or other investigative body, while making false statements consists of lying to investigators while not under oath.

The indictment accuses Mr. Libby of lying to F.B.I. agents who interviewed him on Oct. 14 and Nov. 26, 2003; perjuring himself before the grand jury on March 5 and March 24, 2004, and engaging in obstruction of justice by impeding the grand jury's investigation into the leaking of Ms. Wilson's affiliation with the C.I.A. in the spring of 2003.

"When citizens testify before grand juries, they are required to tell the truth," Mr. Fitzgerald said in a statement. "Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nations or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government."

The indictment constitutes a body blow to the White House, which has faced political problems on several fronts of late and where Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been powerful presences - Mr. Rove as the president's alter ego and top political adviser, and Mr. Libby as an important adviser to one of the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

The development also capped a politically bruising week for Mr. Bush. Earlier in the week the 2,000th American death in Iraq was recorded, and on Thursday the president's nominee to the Supreme Court, Harriet E. Miers, withdrew her candidacy after being attacked by conservatives and having her legal credentials questioned by lawmakers of both parties.

"Special Counsel Fitzgerald's investigation and ongoing legal proceedings are serious," Mr. Bush said this afternoon. "And now the process moves into a new phase. In our system each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial.

"While we're all saddened by today's news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country. I got a job to do and so do the people that work in the White House. We've got a job to protect the American people and that's what we'll continue working hard to do. I look forward to working with Congress on policies to keep this economy moving. And pretty soon I'll be naming somebody to the Supreme Court." Though Mr. Rove was spared indictment today, he remains under a cloud and may be a political liability as Mr. Bush tries to push ahead with his second-term agenda. While Mr. Fitzgerald said the "substantial work" of the grand jury was concluded, he also said the work was "not over."

"We could use any other grand jury or avail another grand jury," he said. "We couldn't use the grand jury that expired today."

Asked about the Mr. Cheney's role in case, Mr. Fitzgerald said "We make no allegations that the vice president conducted any criminal act." Months ago, President Bush said anyone in his administration who committed a crime in connection with the disclosure of the name of Ms. Wilson - also known as Valerie Plame - would not be a part of his administration.

More recently, the White House has retreated somewhat from that position, with Mr. Bush's chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, saying it would not be appropriate to comment in the course of the investigation.

Mr. McClellan said repeatedly at White House news briefings that both Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove had assured him they were not involved in unmasking Ms. Plame. So the charges lodged against Mr. Libby and the ongoing investigation of Mr. Rove offer abundant grist, at least for now, to critics who question the administration's commitment to truth and candor.

Democratic response was instantaneous. "These are very serious charges," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate minority leader. "They suggest that a senior White House aide put politics ahead of our national security and the rule of law. This case is bigger than the leak of highly classified information. It is about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president."

Mr. Fitzgerald said people should not look to the indictment for resolution or vindication of their feelings about the war: "This indictment is not about the war," he said, "this indictment is not about the propriety of the war."

Questions about the extent of Mr. Libby's involvement in the affair intensified this week, when lawyers involved in the case said that Mr. Libby first learned about Ms. Wilson from Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, rather than from journalists several weeks after that date. Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, is a former diplomat who was highly critical of the Bush administration's case for going to war.

As recently as the last few days, F.B.I. agents questioned neighbors of the Wilsons in northwest Washington, seeking to determine whether it was commonly known that she was a C.I.A. officer, a person involved in the case said. Ms. Wilson sometimes has been known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.

Mr. Wilson learned of the indictment while at his home today. "If a crime was committed, it was a crime committed against the country," he said. "It's not about whether I'm vindicated or whether Valerie is vindicated, because this crime was not committed against us."

The indictment of Mr. Libby is the latest chapter in an episode that came to light in the summer of 2003. At first, the matter seemed like a tempest in a political teapot, driven by spite and revolving around the issue of whether anyone had violated an obscure federal statute that makes it illegal, under some circumstances, to unmask an undercover agent.

But well before the charges were announced, the affair had mushroomed into something far more serious. It resulted in the jailing of a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, who had resisted Mr. Fitzgerald's pressure to testify, and it provided regular grist for administration critics to assert that the Bush White House routinely bullied its political opponents.

On July 6, 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times recounting a trip to Niger at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency that left him highly skeptical of Bush administration assertions about Iraq's quest for nuclear material to make weapons.

Eight days after Mr. Wilson's article appeared, the columnist Robert D. Novak disclosed that Mr. Wilson's wife was a C.I.A. operative working on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, and that she had recommended her husband for the trip to Africa in 2002 to look into intelligence reports that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger that could be converted to weapons use. Mr. Novak wrote that he had learned of Ms. Wilson's identity from two senior administration officials. The columnist has refused to say whether he testified before the grand jury.

The indictment paints a portrait of Mr. Libby actively gathering information on Mr. Wilson and his wife in late May and June of 2003. It cites several meetings and conversations, including the following:

¶On May 29, Mr. Libby had a conversation with an undersecretary of state at which he asked for information on Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger.

¶On June 9, the C.I.A. faxed classified documents to Mr. Libby concerning the Niger trip, though they did not mention Mr. Wilson by name. Mr. Libby and one or more others in the vice president's office handwrote the names "Wilson" and "Joe Wilson" on the documents.

¶On June 11 or 12, the undersecretary of state told Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the C.I.A. On June 11, Mr. Libby was informed by a senior C.I.A. officer that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the agency and was believed to be responsible for sending her husband on the trip.

¶On June 12, Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson's wife worked in the C.I.A.'s Counterproliferation Division. Mr. Libby understood that Mr. Cheney had found this out from the C.I.A.

¶On June 23, Mr. Libby met with Judith Miller, a reporter for The New York Times, criticizing "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. In discussing Mr. Wilson's trip with Ms. Miller, Mr. Libby informed her that Mr. Wilson's wife might work at a C.I.A. bureau.

Mr. Fitzgerald said at his news conference that Mr. Libby learned of Mr. Wilson's wife and her role in her husband's trip to Niger from at least four people in the government in June of 2003.

Bill Brink, Carla Baranauckas and Shadi Rahimi contributed reporting from New York for this article.

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