WASHINGTON - A federal grand jury yesterday indicted I. Lewis Libby, Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on five felony charges of lying to investigators and misleading the grand jury in the CIA leak case, deepening the air of political crisis afflicting the White House while leaving many questions about the matter unanswered.
The indictment charges Mr. Libby with one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements to FBI investigators, and two counts of lying to the grand jury. It presented Mr. Libby as a deceptive witness who lied repeatedly and provided fictitious accounts to the grand jury about his dealings with reporters.
Mr. Libby, one of the highest ranking and most influential officials in the administration, immediately resigned and left the White House.
He said in a written statement later that he expected to be exonerated. If convicted of all the charges, he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and fines up to $1.25 million.
At a news conference at the Justice Department, the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, said his probe "is not over," but he repeatedly declined to say whether he might seek additional indictments.
The day's developments left unresolved the fate of Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, who had been warned by the prosecutor that he was in serious legal jeopardy but who was not charged yesterday. With the grand jury's term at an end, Mr. Fitzgerald said he could present new evidence to an already impaneled grand jury if needed.
The Washington Post reported that Mr. Rove escaped indictment after providing new information during 11th-hour negotiations with Mr. Fitzgerald but could still be charged, said people familiar with the talks. A source close to Mr. Rove said the senior strategist's fate will be known soon.
Lawyers involved in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald is likely to put pressure on Mr. Libby to provide evidence against Mr. Rove or other potential targets.
Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said in a statement that he was confident Mr. Fitzgerald would conclude Mr. Rove had done nothing wrong.
Mr. Fitzgerald was seen in the morning outside the office of James Sharp, Mr. Bush's lawyer. Mr. Fitzgerald interviewed Mr. Bush about the case last year. It is not known what discussions, if any, were taking place between the prosecutor and Mr. Sharp.
The 22-page indictment portrayed Mr. Cheney and many of his aides as involved in an effort to learn about Joseph Wilson IV, an ex-diplomat who emerged in the spring and summer of 2003 as a critic of how the administration used prewar intelligence about Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program to justify the invasion of Iraq.
But the indictment did not charge Mr. Libby with the action that set off the prosecution nearly two years ago: the leak of the name of Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer whose identity was disclosed by Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist. Mr. Novak cited two senior administration officials as his sources.
Nor did the indictment name Mr. Novak's sources, beyond a reference to an "Official A" at the White House who had spoken to him in the week before Mr. Novak's column on July 14, 2003. That official is believed to be Mr. Rove. According to lawyers, Mr. Rove told the grand jury of a conversation with Mr. Novak in which Mr. Novak mentioned that he had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Mr. Rove told the grand jury that he had responded to Mr. Novak by saying he had heard the same thing, the lawyers said.
Mr. Wilson wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times, gave newspaper interviews, and went on TV to argue the administration had twisted intelligence to justify the war. Within days the identity of his wife, who had worked for the CIA building networks of informers abroad for more than 20 years, was made public.
Mr. Fitzgerald said Mr. Libby's alleged lies made it difficult to prove the root crime of intentionally unmasking a CIA agent. According to the indictment, Mr. Libby, in essence, falsely claimed that he was merely passing on information from reporters when he was spreading the word among journalists that Valerie Plame - also known by Wilson - was a CIA agent.
Mr. Libby "was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, and he lied about it afterward under oath and repeatedly," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Several hours after the indictment was filed and made public at the U.S. District Court in Washington, Mr. Bush appeared on the South Lawn of the White House. He praised Mr. Libby as someone who had "worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people" and to say while he and his administration were "saddened" by the news, they would "remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country."
In Georgia, Mr. Cheney iscalled Mr. Libby "one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known."
This report includes information from Blade Washington Bureau Chief Ann MCFeatters, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Associated Press.
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