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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Some Tie Libby's Case to the Case for the War - New York Times

Some Tie Libby's Case to the Case for the War - New York TimesOctober 29, 2005
The Capital
Some Tie Libby's Case to the Case for the War
By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 - Democrats portrayed Friday's indictment of a senior White House official in the C.I.A. leak case as evidence that the Bush administration was willing to risk national security to protect a flawed rationale for the war in Iraq. Republicans cautioned against a rush to judgment and sought to minimize any damage.

In a flood of stinging statements immediately after the announcement of charges against the aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., leading Democrats quickly moved beyond the details of the indictment to the broader assertion that White House officials had ignored the law in mounting a furtive campaign to blunt criticism of President Bush's case for war.

"This case is bigger than the leak of highly classified information," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. "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."

In a statement read by his lawyer outside the federal courthouse, Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador and a central figure in the case along with his wife, Valerie Wilson, said, "When an indictment is delivered at the front door of the White House, the office of the president is defiled."

Democrats in the House and Senate immediately called for congressional oversight hearings into administration handling of classified information, even though Republican officials who control the House and Senate have ignored such demands in the past.

Republicans urged the public to await the outcome of the criminal proceedings and pointed to the fact that the indictment did not charge Mr. Libby or anyone else with intentionally unmasking a C.I.A. agent.

"Mr. Libby is entitled to his day in court to answer the charges against him, receive a full airing of all the facts and is innocent until proven otherwise," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee and the manager of Mr. Bush's 2004 campaign.

At the White House and in the offices of senior Republican lawmakers, there was clear relief that the charges did not - at least for now - reach to Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff and a chief political architect for the president and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Staff members, though, did not want to say so on the record for fear of appearing happy on the day Mr. Libby was indicted.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and a senior member of the judiciary and intelligence committees, acknowledged that the five counts against Mr. Libby were serious. But he said he believed the whole investigation was misguided because Ms. Wilson, whose role at the C.I.A. Mr. Libby is accused of disclosing, was not a covert agent as defined in the federal law that prompted the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

"If the whole covert agent thing is blown away because it never really applied to begin with, why are we going through all this?" Mr. Hatch asked.

A similar point was made by Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia and a member of the House Republican leadership who was traveling Friday with Vice President Dick Cheney.

"It's significant that the indictment does not mention the outing of Valerie Plame," Mr. Kingston said in a statement, using Ms. Wilson's maiden name. "It appears that after two years of investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald does not agree with the administration's critics that her situation is what this is all about."

Mr. Hatch and Mr. Kingston, though, were among a minority in their party to weigh in aggressively. Many Republicans were quiet, apparently preferring, at least initially, to stay out of the matter.

One Republican said the party would be judged on how decisively it responds to these accusations of wrongdoing and others in which leading Republicans are entangled. "What is our standard?" said Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut. "The bottom line is how we handle it."

But Democrats castigated the administration. Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost the 2004 presidential race to Mr. Bush, said, "Today's indictment of the vice president's top aide and the continuing investigation of Karl Rove are evidence of White House corruption at the very highest levels, far from the 'honor and dignity' the president pledged to restore to Washington just five years ago."

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said the "heart of these indictments was the effort by the Bush administration to discredit critics of its Iraq policy with reckless disregard for national security and the public trust."

Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, immediately renewed his call for oversight hearings in a letter to Representative Thomas M. Davis III, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the panel. Mr. Waxman pointed to the part of the indictment suggesting that Mr. Cheney told Mr. Libby of Ms. Wilson's work at the C.I.A.

"Obviously, the involvement of the vice president raises profoundly disturbing questions," Mr. Waxman wrote. "We need to understand in detail what role Mr. Cheney played in this despicable incident."

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, also said additional inquiry was necessary. "The fact is that at any time the Senate Intelligence Committee pursued a line of questioning that brought us close to the White House, our efforts were thwarted," Mr. Rockefeller said.

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