Vice President Dick Cheney's chief adviser, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted on five charges today in the CIA leak investigation and resigned from his White House position. Top White House strategist Karl Rove evaded charges but will remain under investigation.
Libby has been indicted on obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of allegedly making false statements in the investigation into the disclosure of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. The grand jury investigating the case handed up the indictment this afternoon. If convicted, Libby could face up to 30 years in prison and $1.25 million fine.
Libby said he believed he would be found innocent of the charges against him. "I am confident that at the end of this process I will completely and totally exonerated," he said in a statement issued by his lawyer, Joseph Tate.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor appointed to lead the investigation, said the probe is not over.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Libby submitted his resignation earlier today and it was accepted by President Bush.
Bush said in an afternoon statement that Libby "worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country."
He said Fitzgerald's investigation is "serious" but stressed that Libby is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial.
Bush also said he was "saddened" by the charges, but added that he would focus on the work of the presidency. "I've got a job to do," he said.
Cheney said he regretted Libby's decision to resign and urged others not to prejudge his now-former adviser.
"Mr. Libby has informed me that he is resigning to fight the charges brought against him. I have accepted his decision with deep regret," Cheney said in a statement. "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known. He has given many years of his life to public service and has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction. In our system of government an accused person is presumed innocent until a contrary finding is made by a jury after an opportunity to answer the charges and a full airing of the facts. Mr. Libby is entitled to that opportunity. Because this is a pending legal proceeding, in fairness to all those involved, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the charges or on any facts relating to the proceeding."
Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband and a former diplomat, said he believes revealing Plame's identity was wrong but that the charges are not a reason to celebrate.
"Today is a sad day for America," Wilson said in a statement read by his attorney, Christopher Wolf.
The End of the Chain of Information ... or the Beginning?
Libby has told the grand jury that he only learned about Plame's secret identity from other reporters and that he was only trading information that he didn't even know was true. But Fitzgerald told reporters this afternoon that evidence shows that he was talking about Plame long before her identity was leaked and that he repeatedly lied about it to the grand jury.
"Mr. Libby repeatedly said that he was at the end of a long chain of information, and he did indeed tell a compelling story," Fitzgerald said. "It was a compelling story, if only it was true. ... Evidence shows that Mr. Libby was in fact at the beginning of the chain and lied about it under oath and repeatedly lied about it."
Fitzgerald said that the investigation will continue but that most of his work has been finished.
"Is the investigation finished? It's not over," he said. "But ... very rarely do you bring a charge in a case that's going to be tried in which you ever end a grand jury investigation. I can tell you that the substantial bulk of the work of this investigation is concluded."
Rove Confident of Ultimate Exoneration
Rove, deputy White House chief of staff and Bush's closest adviser, appears to have escaped indictment for now, but will continue to be under investigation.
Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said he was told by Fitzgerald's office that investigators had "made no decision about whether or not to bring charges" and would continue their probe into Rove's conduct. Rove has testified four times before the grand jury and has maintained that he discussed Wilson's wife with reporters on the condition of anonymity and was only trading information that came from other reporters.
"We are confident that when the Special Counsel finishes his work, he will conclude that Mr. Rove has done nothing wrong," Luskin said in a statement.
Long, Tangled Journey to Indictment
Fitzgerald has been investigating the disclosure to reporters of the identity of Plame. The case goes back to February 2002, when CIA officials asked Wilson to investigate a report that Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium from Niger in the late 1990s for the production of nuclear weapons. Wilson concluded that the report was false. The documents related to the alleged sale were ultimately determined to be forgeries.
However, Bush made reference to a purported uranium deal between Iraq and Africa in his State of the Union address in January 2003. Six months later, Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence and exaggerating the threat from Iraq to justify going to war, prompting criticism from conservatives and Bush supporters. Six days after a critical op-ed penned by Wilson appeared in The New York Times, conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote that "two senior administration officials" had told him that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative and had suggested sending him on the trip to Africa. Novak identified her her as Valerie Plame.
Novak wasn't the only reporter who apparently had learned about Plame's identity. Several reporters had had conversations with administration officials about a CIA link to Wilson's wife.
One of the officials who allegedly talked to reporters was Libby. Before the CIA leak investigation began, one of the words most commonly used to describe Libby was "discreet." He has testified before the grand jury, and testimony shows that he met three times with a New York Times reporter before the Plame leak, initiated a call to an NBC reporter, and was a confirming source about Wilson's wife to Time magazine. Like Rove, he is said to have talked to reporters under anonymity and was only trading information that he had heard from other reporters.
Administration Dogged by Questions
There have also been questions about Cheney's alleged role in the CIA leak.
The New York Times has reported that notes from a previously undisclosed June 12, 2003, conversation between Libby and Cheney suggest Libby first learned about Plame from Cheney himself. This appears to contradict Libby's grand jury testimony that he first heard about Plame from journalists.
With the outing, Plame's career as a covert CIA operative has ended. The leak of her identity has sparked the questions: Who revealed Plame's identity, and why? These questions have dogged the Bush administration as weapons of mass destruction -- the initial rationale for the United States attacking Iraq -- have never been found and the death toll continues to mount. Wilson has claimed that the leak was made in retaliation for his criticism of the Bush administration's argument for going to war in Iraq.
Knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent like Plame could be a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which could land a person in prison for up to 10 years.
The White House can breathe a guarded sigh of relief with Rove unindicted at present. But Libby's indictment caps off a week full of bad news for Bush. On Wednesday, U.S. officials announced the 2000th military death in Iraq, fueling the already growing opposition to the war. And on Thursday, after mounting opposition from both Democrats and Republicans, the White House announced that Harriet Miers, Bush's choice to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, had withdrawn her nomination.
Reported by ABC News' Jonathan Karl.