WASHINGTON The vice president s chief of staff, I. Lewis Scooter Libby Jr., was indicted today on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation, a politically charged case that will throw a spotlight on President Bush s push to war.
Libby, 55, resigned and left the White House.
Karl Rove, Bush s closest adviser, escaped indictment today but remained under investigation, his legal status casting a dark cloud over a White House already in trouble. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq exceeded 2,000 this week, and the president s approval ratings are at the lowest point since he took office in 2001.
Speaking a few hours after Libby s indictment, Bush said the departed aide had sacrificed much and served in extraordinary times in our nation s history. He praised Libby s service and said he is presumed innocent and entitled to due process.
Today's charges stemmed from a two-year investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into whether Rove, Libby or any other administration officials knowingly revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame or lied about their involvement to investigators.
Libby s indictment is a political embarrassment for the president, paving the way for a possible trial renewing the focus on the administration s faulty rationale for going to war against Iraq the erroneous assertion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
It could also mean that Cheney will be called upon as a witness to explain why the administration launched a campaign against Plame s husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, a critic of the war who questioned Bush s prewar assertion that Iraq had sought nuclear material.
At a news conference, Fitzgerald said the inquiry was substantially complete, though he added ominously, It s not over.
The grand jury indictment charged Libby with one count of obstruction of justice, two of perjury and two of making false statements. If convicted on all five, he could face as much as 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.
In each of the counts, the basic allegation against Libby is that he lied to investigators or to Fitzgerald s grand jury about his conversations with reporters. He is not accused of outing a spy, the original charge.
At his news conference, Fitzgerald said that when Libby was first interrogated, he gave the FBI compelling story that in conversations about Wilson, he was just passing gossip from one reporter to another.
Fitzgerald said, If only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.
Democrats suggested the indictment was just the tip of the iceberg. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the case was larger than Libby and 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.
Cheney was mentioned by name in the 22-page indictment and several officials were identified by title, but no one besides Libby was charged.
Libby is considered Cheney s alter ego, a chief architect of the war with Iraq. A trial would give the public a rare glimpse into Cheney s influential role in the West Wing and his behind-the-scenes lobbying for war.
Bush ordered U.S. troops to war in March 2003, saying Saddam s weapons of mass destruction program posed a grave and immediate threat to the United States. No such weapons were found.
After the indictment was announced, Libby submitted his resignation to White House chief of staff Andy Card. It was accepted and Libby left the grounds. Card notified Bush.
Cheney issued a statement saying he had accepted Libby s resignation with deep regret. He added that Libby was entitled to a presumption of innocence in the case and praised his longtime aide as one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known.
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