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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 20:49 GMT 21:49 UK
Indictment rocks Bush administration

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The indictment - and resignation - of Lewis Libby, chief-of-staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, is a wound in the side of the president.

Scooter Libby
Libby was one of the Bush administration's most trusted aides

It raises serious questions about how the Bush administration sought to justify the war against Iraq and brings into scrutiny the possible role of Mr Cheney in the unlawful disclosure of a CIA agent.

Some will say that something is rotten in the state of the administration.

It certainly sounds a discordant note when put against the rallying call of then Governor George Bush when he was running for the presidency after the Clinton years had culminated in a Senate impeachment trial.

He would, he always declared at the end of his speeches, bring "dignity back to the White House".

'Fallback charge'

However, the president's own closest political adviser Karl Rove has not been indicted. He remains under investigation.

Mr Libby's trial - if he pleads not guilty and it is always possible that he will plea bargain - could become a focus for anti-Iraq war comment

Had he been charged as well, the damage would have been even worse.

And so it would have been if the charge against Mr Libby had been the illegal disclosure of the agent's name.

Perjury and other obstruction of justice charges are often a fallback in a case where a primary sin is impossible to prove.

But the indictment, and Mr Libby's immediate departure, removes one of the most solid pillars in the house of the administration.

Mr Bush will have to work hard to shore it up.

Key official

To understand the importance of this case, it is necessary to understand Mr Libby's role.

US President George W Bush
The case could deal a crushing blow to President Bush

He has not only been Mr Cheney's chief-of-staff. He has been an integral part of a central core of officials who drove the policy toward Iraq.

Irve Lewis Libby Jr, known to his friends as "Scooter" (a name given to him as a baby by his father), is as close to Dick Cheney as Karl Rove is to George W Bush.

The difference however is that Mr Libby's vision is international. Mr Rove is almost entirely concerned with domestic analysis.

Mr Libby is regarded in Washington as someone who relishes a challenge (he is a daring skier apparently) but he is not a familiar face on television, preferring to exert his influence in the background.

He was one of a group of right-wing Republicans, known as the neo-conservatives, who reacted against the liberal agenda of the late 20th Century and founded something called The Project for the New American Century.

Basically this called for a huge increase in US power and influence around the world and it has been seen as the origin of many of the policies of the Bush team.

The current case concerns Iraq, one of those policies.

Forged documents

In February 2002, Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador was sent to Niger in West Africa to investigate intelligence that Iraq had agreed the purchase of uranium yellowcake (refined uranium ore) there.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald arrives at courthouse
Special prosecutor Fitzgerald has worked on the case for two years

Since Iraq had no civilian nuclear programme, the supposition was that it was seeking a source of fuel for a military one.

The British government certainly believed the Niger report, at least to the extent that Iraq had made approaches to Niger - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does, even though the CIA does not.

London used it in its intelligence dossier against Iraq. Mr Bush himself referred to it in his State of the Union address in January 2003.

But Mr Wilson said he found no evidence of any sale. In an article in the New York Times after the war he quoted news reports that documents purporting to show a sale were probably forged. Nor did he report any clear evidence that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale.

Nothing much might have happened had Mr Wilson not written that article. In it he stated: "A legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretences."

Eight days later, a veteran Washington columnist Robert Novak, wrote that Mr Wilson's wife Valerie Plame (her unmarried name) was a CIA agent whose job was to analyse the spread of nuclear weapons.

Novak said that "two senior administration officials" had told him that Valerie Plame herself had suggested the Niger trip.

The implication was that Ms Plame had put work and prestige her husband's way and, according to a Democratic Congressman, Henry Waxman, was part of a "smear campaign" against Mr Wilson.

Intriguingly the indictment says that Mr Novak was told about Valerie Plame by someone at the White House simply described as Official A. This official is now said in news reports to be Karl Rove.

The knowing disclosure of an undercover CIA agent is illegal, so the hunt started for the source of the leak.

Both Mr Libby and Mr Rove came into the frame.


They had both spoken to journalists on a background basis (that is, what they said could be used but their names could not). They do that a lot.

Karl Rove
Karl Rove appears to have dodged a bullet

Mr Wilson himself turned his range-finder on Karl Rove and said: "Wouldn't it be fun to see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs?"

But it turned out that it is not Karl Rove who has been frog-marched out but the slightly lesser figure of Scooter Libby.

The charges against Mr Libby emerged from the inconsistency of his evidence to the FBI and the grand jury.

He told them he had learned of Ms Plame's job from reporters.

In fact, according to the indictment he was told by an unnamed Under Secretary of State that she was in the CIA and then by Mr Cheney that she worked for the (nuclear) Counter-Proliferation department.

This contradiction has led to the charges.

And it has got people asking why the vice-president should have been involved.

Looking ahead, Mr Libby's trial - if he pleads not guilty and it is always possible that he will plea bargain - could become a focus for anti-Iraq war comment. Mr Cheney himself might have to testify.


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