After a two-year investigation and weeks of tension in Washington, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald handed down a five-count indictment on Friday (October 28) against Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in the CIA leak case.
Libby, who submitted his resignation on Friday morning, was indicted on two counts of making false statements to FBI agents who were investigating the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to journalists. The indictment also accuses Libby of one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury stemming from his testimony in front of the grand jury investigating the case.
The indictment on the charges — which carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years, according to CNN — contends that Libby misled investigators and the grand jury when he said that he first learned of Plame's identity from
journalists, when his own notes indicate that he discussed her with Cheney and a handful of other administration officials before speaking with the press. In order to be found guilty, Fitzgerald would have to be able to prove that Libby intentionally misled investigators and the grand jury in his testimony.
In a press release from Fitzgerald announcing the indictment, the prosecutor said, "When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth. Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens." During an hour-plus press conference Friday afternoon in which he gave a detailed description of the ways in which Libby is alleged to have misled investigators, Fitzgerald said, "Truth is the engine of our judicial system. ... In trying to figure out what we have here, that process has been frustrated."
Though he was rumored to be a possible target of indictment as well, President Bush's senior advisor and deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, was not named in the indictment, but remains under investigation, according to CNN. Fitzgerald would not comment on whether Rove was still being investigated.
The announcement of Libby's indictment was a second hard blow to the administration this week, coming just one day after Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers asked to have her name withdrawn from consideration (see "Harriet Miers
Withdraws Her Nomination To Supreme Court").
The term of the grand jury in the case expired on Friday and Fitzgerald would not comment on whether he plans to tap another one, but he said that option is open should he choose to exercise it. That leaves the possibility open that Rove — or other administration officials — could be indicted at a future time. Both Libby and Rove have made moves to expand their legal teams to prepare for a possibly lengthy court case, according to The New York Times. In a statement, Cheney said he accepted Libby's resignation with "deep regret," but would not discuss the specifics of an ongoing legal matter regarding the man who has worked closely by his side for more than a decade.
Fitzgerald has still not named the source who first provided Plame's identity to Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist who identified her in a column published in July 2003. Plame is believed to have been a "non-official cover operative," which means she was assigned to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. Under that guise, if her identity was revealed, the CIA would disavow knowledge of her existence.
The revealing of a covert operative's identification is a federal offense under a 1982 law, though there has never been a successful prosecution of that offense and Fitzgerald said it is a very hard case to prove. The indictment against Libby is not tied to charges that he revealed Plame's identity, a more substantive crime, but that he lied about how he learned about it.
Regardless, Fitzgerald said the crime alleged is a very serious one. He said that Plame's classified status in the CIA was not well-known outside the intelligence community in July 2003 "for her protection and for the benefit of all of us." He added that in trying to figure out how and why her name was leaked, "the process was frustrated" by the alleged false statements from Libby, which has prevented the grand jury from "making the hard judgments we need to make."
Among those interviewed during the course of the investigation were President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Part of Fitzgerald's investigation was focused on the question of whether Plame's outing was part of a plot by the Bush administration to punish her husband, Joseph Wilson, for his criticism of its Iraq policy.
Former diplomat Wilson was reportedly sent by Plame to Niger in 2002 on a CIA-sponsored mission to investigate whether Iraq sought to acquire yellowcake uranium there for its nuclear program. In his State of the Union address in January 2003, Bush stated that the British government "has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa," as a justification for launching the war in Iraq, though he did not say that U.S. intelligence had questioned the validity of those claims.
Plame was outed just days after Wilson wrote a July 6, 2003 op-ed piece in The New York Times claiming that the White House had "twisted" intelligence regarding his findings — which revealed no evidence of an Iraqi plot to get the nuclear material. Novak identified Plame in a column on July 14 in which he said she was "a [CIA] operative on weapons of mass destruction," citing two senior administration officials as his source.
Once an investigation was launched into the affair in September 2003, Bush told reporters, "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."
Fitzgerald — who took pains to say during his briefing on Friday that he is not partisan and is neither a registered Democrat nor Republican — has been investigating how Libby and Rove first learned that Plame was a CIA employee and whether they shared that information in an attempt to discredit Wilson.
When Libby spoke to the FBI in October 2003, Fitzgerald said he gave a "compelling story" in which he claimed he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls with reporters, one of whom told him that "all the reporters know that Wilson's wife works at the CIA." Libby then said he passed that information on to other reporters, telling them that he didn't know if it was true. He told the grand jury the same story in March of 2004. "That would be a compelling story ... if only it were true," Fitzgerald said. "But it's not true."
Libby's own notes showed that during a meeting with Cheney in June 2003, the vice president revealed Plame's identity. The indictment alleges that Libby — who had clearance on such national security matters — discussed it with at least six other officials before speaking to a reporter.
Rove told the grand jury that he spoke to Novak on July 9, 2003 and that the journalist was the first one to bring up Plame's name, which was the first time Rove learned of her identity. Two days later, Rove spoke to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who has said that Rove did not name Plame, but told him that she worked at the CIA and had been the one who sent her husband to Africa.
When he first spoke to prosecutors, Rove did not mention the Cooper conversation. His lawyers said he didn't recall the conversation until an e-mail note about it to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley came out.
Asked about the charges by some that this case is really about whether sources within the administration leaked Plame's name in an attempt to quiet critics who said the war in Iraq was unjustified, the no-nonsense prosecutor was unequivocal in his answer. "This indictment is not about the war," he said. "This indictment is not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication about how they feel."
[This story was originally published on 10.28.2005 at 01:51 p.m. ET.]