Legal and Political Impact of Libby's Indictment

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Legal correspondent Nina Totenberg discusses the legal ramifications of the indictment of vice presidential aide Lewis Libby.


We're joined now by NPR's Nina Totenberg.

And, Nina, Lewis Libby, as we said, has resigned, but the impact of this is clearly going to linger. What does this indictment mean for the White House?


Well, the investigation is continuing. Karl Rove isn't off the hook entirely, and the prosecutor will continue to look into allegations against him. And if there is not a plea bargain in this case, it will go to trial. Now if it were to go to trial, it would likely come to trial and the focus of that trial would be the White House and truth telling and the Iraq War, and it would happen just as the 2006 congressional campaign is heating up.

BLOCK: And as witnesses in that trial, we'd be seeing some of the White House officials that are named in this indictment.

TOTENBERG: Probably even the vice president.

BLOCK: What struck you, Nina, as you read through this indictment today?

TOTENBERG: Well, you know, I've read a lot of indictments in the course of my career, and I--usually when you see a perjury indictment and an obstruction of justice indictment, you see the alleged perjury underlined and it's usually pretty short. This indictment is incredible for its detail, and there are long passages that are underlined, and as the prosecutor said today, the way he outlined the charges, Scooter Libby had been meeting with, you know, a half dozen people about Joe Wilson's undercutting the administration's line on weapons of mass destruction, and he was very obsessed by this, and yet he goes in front of the grand jury and, for example, here's one thing he said, and he's at the head of the food chain, according to the indictment. He's telling reporters this stuff. But he's saying to the reporters, `And I said reporters are telling us this. I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because, among other things, I wanted to be clear. I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know. I think I said I don't know if he has a wife.' This is what he's telling the grand jury, but at the same time he's somewhat obsessed with Joe Wilson's wife, according to the indictment.

BLOCK: We heard in Ari Shapiro's piece there Patrick Fitzgerald saying this investigation isn't over. Where does this leave Karl Rove. He seems to be very thinly disguised in the indictment as Official A, somebody who's discussing Valerie Plame with a columnist, Robert Novak.

TOTENBERG: Yes, and at the last moment, apparently Rove's lawyer persuaded Fitzgerald that there was enough doubt about some of this testimony that he shouldn't be indicted, and so there wasn't an indictment brought. But the investigation is continuing and that continues a cloud over this--the White House, I think.

BLOCK: Take us back a bit here, Nina. At the outset, early on in this investigation, the White House denied it had anything to do with the leak of Valerie Plame's name, said they weren't involved in this.

TOTENBERG: That's probably the biggest problem. There was an official statement put out saying that neither Mr. Libby nor Mr. Rove had anything to do with this. We now know that was a lie, that they--at minimum, they lied to their bosses, the president of the United States, and Mr. Rove is still working for the president of the United States. Now, of course, lying to your boss, lying to the American public is not a crime. Only lying to the grand jury is a crime. But in the greater scheme of things, in the court of political public opinion, the hardest stone to swallow in this probably is the fact that Mr. Rove is still working at the White House and there was not any displeasure as the facts began to eke out that this had been a lie.

BLOCK: Nina, thanks very much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

BLOCK: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

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