In a brief appearance at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning (November 3), Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, pleaded not guilty to five felony charges of lying to FBI investigators and a grand jury in the investigation of the leak of a CIA agent’s name.
Libby became the first White House official in more than 130 years to be indicted when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald unsealed the five-count indictment last Friday after a two-year investigation into who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. Arriving in court on crutches due to a broken foot, when asked, Libby responded “with respect your honor, I plead not guilty,” according to CNN (see “Dick Cheney Aide ‘Scooter’ Libby Indicted In CIA Leak Case, Submits Resignation” ).
The nine-minute proceeding included a handing over of stacks of documents from Fitzgerald to Libby’s defense team, who must sign them in order to gain security clearance in order to view the classified information. Fitzgerald asked the judge not to set bail for Libby, and to release him on his own recognizance, which U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he had planned on doing.
The next date in the case was set for February 3, which will be a status hearing in what could be a long, drawn-out court battle, according to CNN analysts, because of the amount of classified information and the issue of calling journalists to testify.
Libby, 55, who resigned as Cheney’s chief of staff and national security adviser on Friday, faces two counts each of perjury and making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice in the case. He is accused of lying to a grand jury and FBI agents about his conversations about Plame with NBC’s Tim Russert and Time‘s Matt Cooper, claiming that they were the first ones who told him about Plame’s status at the CIA, despite proof that he first learned of it from seven different administration officials, including Cheney. Libby has not spoken about the indictment, but released a statement in which he said he is confident he will be “completely and totally exonerated.”
Libby is not charged with intentionally disclosing the name of a covert agent, a federal offense. Critics of the administration charge that Plame’s cover was blown as a means of retaliation against her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who was critical of the evidence the Bush Administration used to bolster its case for the war in Iraq. If convicted on all five counts, Libby could face up to 30 years in prison and as much as $1.25 million in fines.
Following Libby’s processing, his new lawyer, Ted Wells made a brief statement. “In pleading not guilty, he has declared to the world that he is innocent,” said Wells, who is considered one of the top trial lawyers in the country. “He has declared that he intends to fight the charges in the indictment and he has declared that he wants to clear his good name and wants a jury trial.” Wells said that rather than be tried in the media, “Mr. Libby intends to clear his good name by using the judicial process.”
Last week’s indictment led to a surprise move by Democrats on Tuesday, in which they called for a rare closed session in order to discuss the stalled investigation into possibly faulty prewar intelligence (see “Democrats Shut Down Senate For Rare Closed-Door Session On Iraq Intelligence” ).