and his Administration's obsession with secrecy
London -- Wednesday March 7 2007
Liar in the White house: Cheney aide found guilty in CIA leak case
Saga of Washington's discredited WMD claims leads to the conviction for perjury of Dick Cheney's key aide By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
In a massive new blow to the credibility of the White House, Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis Libby has been convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI, during the investigation into the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent.
After a seven-week trial, the jury found Libby guilty yesterday on four of the five counts against him. Ever calm in court, Libby merely blinked as the verdict was read out. Defence lawyers immediately said they would seek a fresh trial, and if that failed, lodge an appeal. In theory Libby faces up to 25 years in jail, though federal sentencing guidelines mean he is likely to receive a far shorter term.
The case arose from the investigation into the leak in July 2003 of the name of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been a virulent critic of the Iraq war. Ms Plame's identity was revealed a few days after Mr Wilson had written a New York Times column debunking White House claims that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium in Africa, and accusing the Bush administration of deliberately manipulating pre-war intelligence. Libby was not accused of leaking the name deliberately, which is a criminal offence. His crime was to lie to the FBI and the grand jury investigating the case, by maintaining he only learnt who Ms Plame was from a reporter, two days before her name appeared in print.
But some of the most celebrated journalists in Washington went into the witness box to testify they had been told by Libby in person that Mr Wilson's wife worked for the CIA - in one case three weeks before Libby said he became aware of the fact.
Defence lawyers contended that if he made a mistake, it was simply because of a faulty memory caused by pressure of work. But the jury decided that Libby had directly lied. The motive, one juror explained to reporters afterwards, was to cover up the involvement of the Vice-President himself in the campaign to discredit the former ambassador.
In a statement, Mr Cheney said he was "very disappointed with the verdict". At the White House the mood was equally grim. George Bush respected the result of the trial, but was "saddened for Scooter Libby and his family", a spokesman said.
But there is no concealing the extent of the damage. Libby is not only the most senior Bush administration official to face - and now be convicted of - criminal charges. As chief of staff to arguably the most powerful vice-president in US history, he was one of the two or three most important policy-makers at the White House after the President and Vice-President.
The trial, in which neither Libby nor his former boss testified, threw no new light on the handling of the WMD intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it revealed the obsessive sensitivity of the Vice-President's office to any attack on its pre-war use of intelligence, and its determination to discredit critics.
At one point the prosecution produced a specimen of the offending article, annotated by Mr Cheney himself, asking who Mr Wilson was, and whether he had been sent on his 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa as a "junket" organised by his wife. The guilty verdict against Libby is thus bound to tarnish further the reputation of both Mr Bush and Mr Cheney, whose approval ratings are even lower than those of the President.
Libby, said Denis Collins, one of the 11 jurors, seemed to be the "fall guy" who had been given the job of talking to reporters by the Vice-President. There was "a tremendous amount of sympathy" for him, Mr Collins said, but in the end they could not believe that a man whose exceptional grasp of detail had been attested to in court had simply forgotten when and with whom he had discussed Ms Plame.
The chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald denied suggestions that he had made more of the affair than it merited. Mr Fitzgerald was named special prosecutor in November 2003, after the Justice Department opened an investigation into the leak.
"We could not walk away from the facts of the case that we knew in December 2003. Any lie under oath is serious," he said.
Libby's appeal could run for many months through the courts, possibly as far as the Supreme Court.
If the case is not settled by the time a new president is elected in November 2008, Mr Bush could pardon Libby.
But Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, flatly opposed any pardon, saying: "It's about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics."
The fallen war advocate
Until October 2005, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was the chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney and a powerful influence within the White House, particularly on matters of national security. He was among the loudest voices making the case for war with Iraq and helped put together the dossier that Secretary of State Colin Powell notoriously revealed to the United Nations in the spring of 2003.
A former private lawyer, Libby joined the government in the early 80s, joining the State Department where he served under his former law professor Paul Wolfowitz. After a brief departure from government to return to public practice, Libby returned to work for Mr Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in 1989.
He was also a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, a right-wing group seeking the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
When he became Mr Cheney's chief of staff he received the name "germ boy", so named because of his insistence on universal smallpox vaccination.
But his closeness to the Vice-President also earned him the title "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney".
In 1996 Libby published a novel, The Apprentice, that told the story of a group of travellers stranded in northern Japan in 1903. The publishers described it as "an everyday tale of bestiality and paedophilia in 1903 Japan... [and] packed with sexual perversion, dwelling on prepubescent girls and their training as prostitutes".
A LIAR IN THE WHITE HOUSEThe Lie
The Blair Government's September 2002 dossier claims Saddam Hussein has sought to buy uranium for his nuclear weapons programme from Niger. George Bush, in his State of the Union address in January 2003, ignores CIA reservations and repeats the assertion. The claim becomes a central plank in the argument for war.
The CIA dispatches a former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, to investigate the Niger claims, which he concludes are false. Related documents are subsequently obtained by Italian authorities and passed to the UN nuclear agency which declares them to be crude forgeries in March 2003, just before the invasion.
When no WMD are found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, Joseph Wilson accuses the Bush administration of deliberately manipulating intelligence before the war. His views are first aired in an off-the-record interview with The Independent on Sunday in June of that year, before he goes public in American newspapers.
The Smear Campaign
Valerie Plame, Joseph Wilson's wife, is identified as an undercover agent by columnist Robert Novak on 14 July 2003 and the search is on for the source of the leak within the Bush administration, accused of deliberately smearing Ms Plame while potentially endangering her life by exposing her as a CIA agent. Revealing a CIA agent's identity is against the law.
A special prosecutor is appointed to uncover the leaker, with suspicion falling on the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff, Lewis Libby, takes pains to protect his boss. Although no charges are brought over the leak itself, Mr Libby is put on trial for trying to frustrate the investigation.
Lewis Libby becomes the first Bush administration official to be convicted over the flawed intelligence used to justify the war when he is found guilty yesterday of obstructing justice, lying and perjury. He faces up to 25 years in jail. Many in Washington say it was, in effect, the trial of Mr Cheney, who was responsible for the actions of his aide.
London -- Wednesday March 7 2007
The CIA agent, her husband and a leak ... how high-flying Bush aide fell to earth
· Conviction ends career of Cheney chief of staff
· Trial exposed secretive White House machine Ewen MacAskill in Washington
The downfall of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, one of the leading figures in the Bush administration, was completed yesterday. The man who had swaggered round the White House as chief of staff to the vice-president, Dick Cheney, was subdued as he listened to the verdict in courtroom 17 of the US district court, within walking distance of his former office.
Libby had looked confident when he appeared in court to hear the verdict. But as he was found guilty on the first of five charges he blinked and seemed surprised. As each verdict was announced, the blinking became more pronounced.
And so ended the political career of one of the Bush ideologues, part of the original neoconservative group known as the Vulcans who advocated an aggresessive foreign policy, in particular the invasion of Iraq.
The six-week trial, with its parade of witnesses from the administration, offered a rare insight into the workings of the obsessively secretive White House. It also provided more than a glimpse of the often unsavoury relationship between the administration and the media insiders.
Witnesses provided a view of daily life inside the White House, revealing an administration paranoid about the media, and extremely sensitive about criticism.
A White House staffer revealed what Washington journalists have long suspected: that bad news should be released late on a Friday when most of the media are not paying attention or on the assumption that most stories that appear on a Saturday are not followed up.
Run-up to war
But the real importance of the trial was the insight it offered into the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The case coincided with a shift in US public opinion from support for the war to scepticism and outright hostility, and confirmed the growing suspicion that the public had been misled.
The case was complex but it began simply enough with 16 words uttered by Mr Bush in his state of the union speech two months before the invasion. He said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
That statement was untrue. The CIA advised the president that it was sceptical about the claim - advice which Mr Bush ignored. Joe Wilson, a former US ambassador opposed to war, went to Niger to check the claim He concluded it was nonsense, and said so in an article in the New York Times shortly after the invasion.
This appears to have enraged Mr Bush and Mr Cheney, according to witnesses during the trial. In what could have been an act of retribution, there was a leak to the press that Mr Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was apparently a CIA covert agent. As a result of her identity being made public, she was out of a job.
Disclosing the identity of CIA agents is a criminal offence and the FBI and a grand jury conducted investigations. In the speculation about who might have leaked Ms Plame's identity, Libby's name regularly came up.
The 56-year-old lawyer had long been involved with many of the individuals who would become key figures in the Bush adminstration. He had been taught at Yale by Paul Wolfowitz, who would later become the intellectual powerhouse of the neoconservatives.
Mr Wolfowitz invited Libby to join him at the state department in the 1980s. In 1997, Libby became a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, the neoconservative team seeking to reshape US policy in the Middle East.
He joined Mr Cheney, the most hawkish member of the Bush administration, as chief of staff in 2001. He was also national security adviser, shaping policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and other hotspots.
Under oath, Libby told the investigators looking into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity that he learned her identity from a reporter, Tim Russert. The television presenter denied this. Another reporter, Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, spent three months in jail for refusing to disclose her sources for Ms Plame's identity. She was freed after Libby allowed her to name him as the source.
During the trial, prosecutors said Libby had lied. The defence claimed he had suffered a memory lapse. The jury refused to give him the benefit of the doubt and he faces a sentence of up to 25 years. But in reality he may never go to jail. His lawyers can string out the appeal long enough for Mr Bush, before he leaves office in January 2009, to grant a pardon to his loyal follower. But his time as one of the leading advocates of the neoconservative revolution and a leading player at the White House is long over.
Key figures: spies and whistleblowers
Lewis "Scooter" Libby
The former aide has different explanations for how he came by his nickname - either from his father, impressed by the agility of his son, or comparison to a well-known Yankees player. Until his fall, the lawyer was one of Washington's most powerful neocons, tutored at Yale by Paul Wolfowitz. He was so close to the vice-president that he was known as "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney".
The spy at the heart of the affair. As far as her neighbours in suburban Washington were concerned, she was a civil servant and mother. In fact she was an undercover CIA agent trying to find evidence to back up claims about Iraqi WMD. Her cover was blown in July 2003 by officials briefing journalists. Her husband Joe Wilson annoyed the White House enough to provoke the leak. He was a flamboyant ex-ambassador sent to Niger in 2002 to chase claims from Mr Cheney's office that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in West Africa, but found a dead end. He was shocked to hear the claim repeated by Bush and blew the whistle in July 2003. Later journalists were told by officials that he had no qualifications to go on the Niger trip, other than a well-placed wife in the CIA.
The Machiavelli in the court of Bush had also told journalists about Plame's identity, but unlike the lawyer, he belatedly admitted it and avoided charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The leak itself was not, in the end, considered a crime.
The journalist who blew Plame's cover.