Libby Indictments First in Two-Year Investigation

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A grand jury indicts White House official I. Lewis Libby on five felony counts after a two-year investigation. If convicted, he could face 30 years in prison. Libby is accused of lying to the grand jury about whether he revealed the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to the media.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The big story today: the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby. He has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. The indictments are the first in a two-year investigation that has roiled the White House. We'll have several reports. First, NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO reporting:

After weeks of speculation, the two men at the center of this investigation finally learned their fates. Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, received good news. His lawyer released a statement this morning saying in part, `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.' Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, was not as fortunate. At the Justice Department this afternoon, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald made the announcement.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (Special Prosecutor): A few hours ago a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury and two counts of false statements.

SHAPIRO: These were not the alleged crimes that initiated Fitzgerald's investigation. Fitzgerald is the US attorney in Chicago, and he was tapped to find out how the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame was published in the press. It can be a crime to leak the name of an undercover CIA agent, but no one was charged with that crime today. Although the indictment does describe Libby giving classified information about a CIA agent's identity to people who were not authorized to receive classified information, Fitzgerald says those actions were not enough to warrant criminal charges.

Mr. FITZGERALD: You need to know at the time that he transmitted the information he appreciated that it was classified information, and that is sort of what gets back to my point. In trying to figure that out, you need to know what the truth is. So our allegation is in trying to drill down and find out exactly what we got here, if we received false information that process is frustrated.

SHAPIRO: Fitzgerald strongly dismissed the notion that the crimes Libby is charged with today are merely technicalities.

Mr. FITZGERALD: The truth is the engine of our judicial system, and if you compromise the truth the whole process is lost. Any notion that anyone might have that there is a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice or perjury is upside-down. If we--if these facts are true, if we will walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice if there's perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs.

SHAPIRO: The indictment alleges that Libby lied to FBI agents and to the grand jury when he was under oath. He told the panel that he was not the first to give information about Valerie Plame to anyone. He said, quote, "I told a couple reporters what other reporters had told us." Or as Fitzgerald put it, `Libby said he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls.' But according to the indictment, that story wasn't true.

Mr. FITZGERALD: He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, and that he lied about it afterwards under oath and repeatedly.

SHAPIRO: An adviser close to Karl Rove told NPR that a man identified only as Official A in the indictment is Rove. The indictment says Official A was the first to tell columnist Robert Novak of Plame's identity.

Soon after word of the indictment came down, the White House announced that Libby had resigned. President Bush made a statement in which he said the crimes Libby is accused of are serious, but he now plans to look forward.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: While we're all saddened by today's news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country. I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House.

SHAPIRO: The grand jury in this case has been meeting for nearly two years. Now its term is up. But that does not mean the investigation is over. Fitzgerald would not comment on Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove or anyone who was not named in the indictment. But he said...

Mr. FITZGERALD: It's not over, but I'll tell you this. I can tell you the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded. This grand jury's term has expired by statute; it could not be extended. But it's an ordinary course to keep a grand jury open to consider other matters, and that's what we'll be doing.

SHAPIRO: As this case grew over the last two years, it became about more than the leak of a CIA agent's name. The leak only occurred after Valerie Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, made public comments that were critical of the Bush administration's justification for war with Iraq. Fitzgerald said today that no one should read this indictment as a statement about the war.

Mr. FITZGERALD: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war, and people who believe currently 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 of how they feel.

SHAPIRO: This case also became something of a referendum of the freedom of the press. The investigation enveloped several reporters, most significantly Judith Miller of The New York Times. She spent 85 days in jail after refusing to testify, saying that a promise of confidentiality to a source was absolute. Fitzgerald today she he wished Miller never had to spend one minute in jail.

Mr. FITZGERALD: I was not looking for a First Amendment showdown. I will say this: I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely. It should be an extraordinary case.

SHAPIRO: Fitzgerald said he will be part of the prosecution as it moves forward. The maximum sentence Libby could face for the crimes he's been accused of is 30 years in prison and a fine of more than a million dollars. But generally, people convicted of these crimes receive much lower sentences. Libby said he's confident that he will be exonerated. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: And you can read the charges against Lewis Libby and a time line of the CIA leak case at our Web site, npr.org.

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