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Published: Sunday, 10/30/2005

Embarrassment for the V.P.

The drama that began when the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act reached an important milestone Friday when a federal grand jury indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr. on five counts.

These included obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury, and led quickly to Mr. Libby's resignation from Mr. Cheney's staff. If convicted, Mr. Libby could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and face a large fine.

There had been speculation that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, assigned the case in December of 2003 when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself because of possible conflict of interest, would also present indictments against President Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove.

So far the grand jury has taken no action against Mr. Rove, who remains under investigation.

The indictment of Mr. Libby is only one piece in a large and complex picture. It involves the leaking to the media by some Bush Administration official or officials of the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson.

The officials' objective in doing so was to discredit her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, for having called into question part of the rationale for the Iraq War.

The matter then spread into the arena of freedom of the press when New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to prison for 85 days for refusing to reveal the name of a source in the story. The source in question was Mr. Libby.

It became even more complicated when it emerged that it was Mr. Cheney who had provided Ms. Plame's name to Mr. Libby, prior to his talks with Ms. Miller and other media representatives. Part of the next chapter will be the prosecution of Mr. Libby on the five counts.

Whether any of the other high level officials in the picture, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rove, or even President Bush - if it emerges that he knew of the White House project to neutralize Mr. Wilson's charges - will face further judicial action remains to be determined.

But Mr. Libby's indictment indicates clearly that some of this White House's political dirty tricks may have backfired.



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