Friday, October 28, 2005

Libby indictment ‘a sad time for the presidency’

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted October 28, 2005

WASHINGTON — Two members of Vermont’s congressional delegation issued a harsh assessment of the Bush administration Friday after a federal grand jury handed down a five-count indictment against Vice Pres. Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“The indictment of Lewis Libby confirms my suspicions about how far this administration is willing to go to defend its flawed justifications for going to war in Iraq, and to silence those who challenge their reasoning. This marks a sad time for this presidency and for our country,” said U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, I-VT, in a statement.

Libby was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury charges for allegedly lying about how and when in 2003 he learned and subsequently disclosed to reporters then-classified information concerning the employment of CIA operative Valerie Wilson, announced Justice Department Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Libby resigned his position immediately after Fitzgerald’s announcement.

Fitzgerald said the investigation remains open, but would not identify the focus of the ongoing probe.

Rep. Bernie Sanders, also an independent, said the ongoing investigation and pending trial could shed light on how the U.S. public was misled about going to war in Iraq, and why.

"The criminal indictment of Scooter Libby, a top White House official, has implications that go far beyond the very serious charge of compromising national security and exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer,” said Sanders in a statement. “The ongoing investigation and trial will likely shed light on how and why the Bush Administration took us into the war in Iraq, and how they may have distorted intelligence information regarding allegations that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took time to praise Fitzgerald for his non-partisan approach to the investigation.

"This investigation has been handled by a prosecutor who has done a thorough and professional job, without a hint of partisanship, which is exactly how our legal system is supposed to work,” Leahy said. “At a time when many are pushing to inject more ideologues into our independent judicial system, it has been reassuring for the country to see an objective judicial process take its proper course.”

The charges allege that Libby lied to FBI agents who interviewed him on Oct. 14 and Nov. 26, 2003; committed perjury while testifying under oath before the grand jury on March 5 and March 24, 2004; and engaged in obstruction of justice by impeding the grand jury’s investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA to various reporters in the spring of 2003.

Libby, 55, has served since Jan. 20, 2001, as assistant to the president, chief of staff to the vice president, and assistant to the vice president for national security affairs. He will be arraigned at a later date in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

If convicted, the crimes charged in the indictment carry the following maximum penalties on each count: obstruction of justice–10 years in prison; making false statements and perjury–5 years in prison. Each count also carries a maximum fine of $250,000, making the maximum penalty for conviction on all counts 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine, Justice Department officials said.

According to the indictment, on Sept. 26, 2003, the Department of Justice and the FBI began a criminal investigation into the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information regarding Wilson’s CIA affiliation to various reporters in the spring of 2003.

In January 2004, the grand jury investigation began examining possible violations of criminal laws prohibiting disclosing the identity of covert intelligence personnel (The Intelligence Identities Protection Act), improperly disclosing national defense information, making false statements to government agents, and perjury, according to the justice department.

A major focus of the grand jury investigation was to determine which government officials had disclosed to the media prior to July 14, 2003, information concerning Wilson’s CIA affiliation, and the nature, timing, extent, and purpose of such disclosures, as well as whether any official made such a disclosure knowing that Wilson’s employment by the CIA was classified information, Justice Department officials said.

To read the full indictment, click here.

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