By William Branigin, Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers Friday, October 28, 2005; 1:00 PM
A federal grand jury today indicted Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, after a two-year investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity but spared -- at least for now --President Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove.
Libby was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The indictment charged that he gave misleading information to the grand jury, allegedly lying about information he discussed with three news reporters. It alleged that he committed perjury before the grand jury in March 2004 and that he also lied to FBI agents investigating the case.
The indictment of Libby, 55, was presented in court today by the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, as the grand jury's term expired. Although no indictment was announced for Rove, 54, the White House deputy chief of staff, today's proceedings did not remove him from legal jeopardy. Sources close to the case said the investigation of Rove is continuing.
"The Special Counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he has made no decision about whether or not to bring charges and that Mr. Rove's status has not changed," said Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, in a statement this morning. "Mr. Rove will continue to cooperate fully with the Special Counsel's efforts to complete the investigation. We are confident that when the Special Counsel finishes his work, he will conclude that Mr. Rove has done nothing wrong."
Rove provided new information to Fitzgerald during eleventh-hour negotiations that "gave Fitzgerald pause" about charging Bush's senior strategist, said a source close to Rove. "The prosecutor has to resolve those issues before he decides what to do."
This raised the prospect that a new grand jury or another existing one would continue the probe, given the expiration today of the current grand jury's term.
Libby essentially was charged with lying to protect his boss, the vice president. He testified that he learned of the identity of the CIA agent in question, Valerie Plame, from reporters. But evidence emerged indicating that he actually learned Plame's name and her role in the CIA from Cheney. The evidence reportedly includes notes Libby took in a June 12, 2003, meeting with Cheney.
As tension mounted ahead of the indictment, the White House adopted a business-as-usual approach. Bush traveled to Norfolk, Va., today to deliver a speech on the war on terrorism, and Cheney was in Georgia to attend three political events.
The investigation by the federal grand jury in Washington was originally launched to determine whether anyone illegally leaked the name of Plame, a covert CIA agent, in an effort to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, in retaliation for his criticism of the war in Iraq.
The two key subjects of the inquiry -- Rove and Libby -- have acknowledged talking about Plame to reporters, but they have denied leaking her name or committing other wrongdoing.
Libby testified that he did not identify Plame by name to reporters or discuss her covert status with them. But New York Times reporter Judith Miller has testified that she believed she first learned of Plame's CIA job from Libby, when the two spoke on June 23, 2003. Miller said she and Libby discussed Plame again in a meeting on July 8, 2003, and in a phone conversation a few days later, on July 12. She has said she first learned Plame's name from someone other than Libby but does not recall who it was.
A lawyer who formerly served in the State Department and Defense Department, Libby is the vice president's assistant for national security affairs in addition to being his chief of staff.
The reported effort to discredit Wilson was rooted in a clash between the White House -- notably Cheney -- and the intelligence bureaucracy in the CIA and State Department over the war in Iraq. Grand jury testimony that has been disclosed suggests that Bush administration officials suspected the CIA of trying to shift blame for prewar intelligence failures to the White House.
The vice president played a central role in assembling the case for invading Iraq and repeatedly pressed for intelligence that would bolster his arguments. Ironically, it was a question from Cheney during an intelligence briefing that initiated the chain of events that led to the grand jury investigation. He had received a military intelligence report alleging that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger and asked what the CIA knew about it.
As a result, Wilson was dispatched in February 2002 to look into claims that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger for use in developing nuclear weapons. Wilson has said he found no evidence of any such effort and reported that the claims were false.
Nevertheless, President Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union address that the British government had learned Hussein "recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Two months later, Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq to depose Hussein and eliminate a purported threat to the United States from Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction." No such weapons were found, nor was there evidence that the Hussein regime had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program.
In an opinion piece published in the July 6, 2003, New York Times, Wilson criticized Bush's State of the Union statement. Wilson wrote that if his findings in Niger were ignored because they did not fit the administration's "preconceptions about Iraq," then a case could be made "that we went to war under false pretenses." He said some intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear program was "twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
On July 14, conservative political commentator Robert D. Novak wrote a syndicated column that called Wilson's African mission into question, suggesting the trip was instigated by Wilson's wife and did not have high-level backing. Novak named Plame as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction" and said "two senior administration officials" had told him she had suggested sending her husband on the Niger trip.
Wilson subsequently complained that the Bush administration had compromised his wife's CIA career in retribution against him.
The CIA then asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak. Fitzgerald, a hard-charging U.S. attorney in Chicago, was appointed special counsel for the probe in late December 2003. His charge was to determine whether anyone involved in the leak violated federal law, including the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. The act makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a person with access to classified information to intentionally disclose the identity of a covert agent to anyone not authorized to receive classified information.
Indications later emerged, however, that Fitzgerald was looking into other possible crimes related to the leak, including conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice.
As Fitzgerald was preparing to seek the grand jury indictments, the FBI conducted last-minute interviews Monday night in Plame's Washington, D.C., neighborhood. The agents were attempting to determine if Plame's neighbors knew she worked for the CIA before she was unmasked. Two neighbors said they told the FBI they had been surprised to learn she was a CIA operative.
Plame, 42, formerly worked undercover as an "energy analyst" for a private company that was later identified as a CIA front. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University and the London School of Economics, she married Wilson, now 55, in 1998 while she was a covert agent. The couple has 5-year-old twins.
Although the focus has been on Rove and Libby, Cheney himself has been publicly implicated in recent days in the chain of events that led to the exposure of Plame. The New York Times reported Monday that Fitzgerald possesses notes taken by Libby showing that he learned about Plame from the vice president a month before she was identified by Novak. The White House did not dispute the report.
Two lawyers involved in the case said Fitzgerald apparently has been aware of Libby's June 12, 2003, conversation with Cheney since the early days of his investigation.
Cheney told NBC's Tim Russert in September 2003 that he did not know Wilson or who sent him on the trip to Africa.
Around the same time, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said any suggestion that Rove was involved in the leak was "ridiculous." McClellan said President Bush has set "the highest of standards" for his administration and that if any officials were involved in the leak, "they would no longer be in this administration."
Asked in June 2004 whether he would fire anyone who leaked Plame's name, Bush replied in the affirmative.
But in July this year, Bush appeared to add a qualifier, telling reporters he would dismiss anyone who "committed a crime" in the case. The White House refused to clarify whether an indictment would trigger termination, or if that would require a conviction.
During the investigation, Fitzgerald sought grand jury testimony from several journalists who had spoken with administration officials about Plame, and he came down hard on those who refused to cooperate.
The federal judge in the case, Thomas F. Hogan, ordered the New York Times' Miller held for contempt for refusing to identify a confidential source, and she spent 85 days in jail in Alexandria, Va., before agreeing to testify about conversations with Libby. Although she did not write an article about the case, Miller interviewed Libby about the Plame matter and promised him anonymity. Miller said she agreed to testify when Libby specifically and personally released her from the confidentiality pledge.
Among those interviewed by Fitzgerald in the case have been Bush, Cheney and several of their top aides and advisers.