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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
'Bad omens' for the White House
Justin Webb
By Justin Webb
BBC News, Washington

This is a jittery week in Washington.

On top of all President George W Bush's other political worries and woes is the looming prospect that two of his most trusted and powerful advisers might be forced to resign and face criminal charges.

President Bush
The Bush administration is said to be expecting the worst
Mr Bush's closest political aide, Karl Rove, and Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, are going to know their fate within the next few days as a special prosecutor finishes his work.

The case goes back to the summer of 2003, when the identity of a serving CIA officer, Valerie Plame, was leaked to journalists.

The Bush team had been engaged in political combat with Ms Plame's husband, a former ambassador who had criticised the president over Iraq.

A special prosecutor was appointed to determine whether this was a deliberate leak, which would have been a criminal offence.

Mr Rove and Mr Libby testified before a grand jury and that was that - until, under legal pressure, journalists who had been the beneficiaries of the leaks named their sources to the prosecutor and his grand jury.

'Confidence'

That seems to be the nub of the problem now - that the journalists might have revealed things that the officials had not mentioned.

"There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice-president's office as well," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said two years ago.

How different Mr McClellan sounds these days - responding for instance to the simple question: Does the president have confidence in Karl Rove?

Karl Rove
It is not clear if Mr Bush still has confidence in Mr Rove
"What I said previously still stands. You can go back and look at it - I'd be glad to show you the transcript when that question came up last time."

He does have full confidence?

"We've already addressed that."

Why, if you've addressed it, why can't you repeat it for me?

"Why do you have to keep asking a question then that I've already answered when..."

Former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste says the demand for extra testimony from Mr Rove last week suggests that he is in trouble.

"The fact that he spent over four hours in the grand jury indicates a great deal of scepticism," Mr Ben-Veniste said.

"In the first or second or third appearances before the grand jury he was not entirely candid, and in fact made broad statements that are now proved to be inaccurate or untruthful. He's got a real problem."

Vice-president's man

But Mr Rove is not alone. Judith Miller - a New York Times journalist - originally went to prison rather than reveal her source. But this month she did name him: Lewis Libby, the vice-president's chief of staff.

Ms Miller's lawyer, Bob Bennett, says that Mr Libby's fate depends on whether he told the truth when he testified.

"Much would depend upon what Mr Libby said to the grand jury. If he said that he had not talked to Judy about these things or didn't talk about the wife, then he's got a problem."

They expect the worst now - I believe that both Libby and Rove will be indicted
Journalist William Kristol

Even friends of the administration acknowledge that the omens are not good.

William Kristol - a journalist with impeccable White House connections - said: "They expect the worst now."

"I believe that both Libby and Rove will be indicted - not for what the original referral was about but for some combination of disclosing classified information or perhaps failing to be fully candid with federal investigators or with the grand jury."

That would be a very big deal indeed, which is why the famously cool Bush White House is sweating profusely.

Columnist Joe Klein chronicled the chaos caused by the legal and ethical travails of the Clinton administration, and he sees it happening all over again.

"There is a kind of paralysis that has infected everything - their decisions on Iraq, their decisions on Katrina. We have been here before during the Clinton years, and it's kind of shocking to me that we're back with special prosecutors again."

The prosecutor in this case will issue his report any day now. Mr Bush's presidency is already in a mess, and criminal indictments could all but finish it off.


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