What's Next for Libby?

Oct. 28, 2005 — -- Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury in the CIA leak investigation. What happens next could be quite a spectacle.

Following the charges related to the disclosure of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's name, Libby submitted his letter of resignation earlier today and it was accepted, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. The letter was delivered to Chief of Staff Andy Card, who informed President Bush.

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.

Unless Libby gets the charges thrown out or reaches a plea agreement -- which, given the charges, would almost certainly mean jail time -- there will be a trial.

Conviction of obstruction of justice carries a fine and maximum 10 years in prison, and the false statements and perjury charges carry a fine and maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. The special counsel's press release stated "the maximum penalty for conviction on all counts is 30 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine." It is probable, however, that any sentence would run concurrently in this case, not consecutively.

But several former federal prosecutors told ABC News they believe Libby is unlikely to see that much prison time if convicted. They estimate that -- if he is convicted -- Libby is more likely to face a maximum of two years in prison, because the charges would likely be treated as a single course of conduct and the sentence would run concurrently, not consecutively.

A trial may involve many prominent figures -- it appears that journalists Tim Russert of NBC News, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time Magazine would be witnesses. Libby's lawyers would likely attempt to challenge their credibility.

In addition, it is also clear that the roles, if any, of Cheney and others in the vice president's office in the matter will be examined. Even if Libby does plead to something, he might still have to talk more about Cheney's role.

In addition, the original source of journalist Bob Novak's column -- which prompted the investigation -- was not indicted today. Presidential aide Karl Rove, who has been under investigation by the grand jury, so far faces no charges.

Although Rove's testimony as reported differed from Cooper's, it appears that the differences weren't as material in the prosecutor's views as those involving Libby.

What They've Said

Miller went to jail for 85 days for refusing to cooperate with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald by revealing the source of conversations she had had about former diplomat Joseph Wilson's wife. Miller never wrote a story about Wilson or his wife and only agreed to testify before a grand jury after she said her source -- who turned out to be Libby -- waived her pledge of confidentiality.

Miller said she had three conversations with Libby and that he suggested a tie to Wilson's wife but didn't reveal her name. However, notes she turned over to investigators contained Plame's name, though it was misspelled. Miller told prosecutors she couldn't recall who disclosed the name. Her journalistic ethics have come under scrutiny.

Time's Cooper has testified before a grand jury once and talked about conversations he had with Libby and Rove. Cooper said Rove indicated that Wilson's wife worked with the CIA but did not disclose her name and did not say her work was covert.

Libby, he said, confirmed Wilson's wife's connection to the CIA but also did not reveal her name or mention her status as a covert operative. Cooper testified after Time surrendered his notes and e-mail detailing a conversation he had with Rove.

Novak identified Plame by name as a covert CIA operative and sparked the opening of the investigation. He is said to be cooperating with prosecutors but neither he nor his attorney have commented on his dealings with the CIA leak probe. Novak has said that the information about Plame first came from a non-partisan official as an "offhand revelation."

Libby has reportedly told a grand jury that he first heard of the CIA connection to Plame from Russert. But the host of NBC's "Meet the Press" has told authorities he did not know about Plame until her identity was published and could not have been Libby's source.

Another reporter, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, also has answered Fitzgerald's questions regarding a conversation about Plame with an unidentified administration official. Under the arrangements for his testimony, Pincus did not identify his source to the investigators, who already knew the official's identity.

Some of the case against Libby relies on the accounts of Russert, Miller and Cooper. But the transcript of parts of the grand jury and Libby's FBI statements make it clear that Libby's own accounts of those conversations have him allegedly claiming false things about how he knew about Plame.

Political Impact

Politically at least, the indictment doesn't seem like an overreach by Fitzgerald, or an easily-branded "criminalization of politics" by White House defenders.

There is a reference to a conversation Libby had "in the office of the vice president." It doesn't make it clear if Cheney was involved in that conversation or not, which could be key. But the indictment does suggest Cheney's direct involvement.

The theme of Libby's and Cheney's displeasure with the CIA -- a frequent complaint among neo-conservatives -- is mentioned. This is going to be a very important theme going forward.

The indictment does not delve into Libby's motivation for learning so much about Wilson, though he allegedly was dogged in pursuing information about Wilson.

There are likely a lot of politically damaging things that go along with the actions alleged in the indictment -- even if there is never any conviction. It is Libby's motive for his interest in Wilson and the alleged attempts to cover up his actions, if he did them, that could lead to a wider search for answers in the press or among Democrats that could lead to a more general discussion of how the administration took the country to war in Iraq.

ABC News' Mark Halperin contributed to this report.