Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who resigned Friday, is facing charges of perjury and lying to a grand jury investigating who revealed the name of a CIA officer. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns looks at the charges facing the vice president's long-time confidant Lewis Libby.
The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby lied to the grand jury about how he learned the name of CIA operative Valerie Wilson.
Ms. Wilson's husband has been a leading critic of the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq, and Mr. Wilson says White House officials purposefully revealed his wife's identity in retaliation.
During a news conference to outline the charges against Mr. Libby, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said protecting the secrecy of CIA operatives is crucial to U.S. national security. "Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, and college classmates had no idea that she had another life. The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known for her protection but for the benefit of all of us. It is important that if a CIA officer's identity be protected that it be protected not just for the officer but for the nation's security," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald says people who work for the CIA know they run the risk that something bad could happen to them, but he says it is important they are not running the risk that something bad might happen to them because of something done by a fellow government employee.
Ms. Wilson's identity as a CIA operative was revealed in July of 2003 by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. But Mr. Fitzgerald says Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told about her employment at the agency. The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby told New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Ms. Wilson one month earlier.
Mr. Libby initially told the Grand Jury that he first learned about Ms. Wilson in conversations with NBC reporter Tim Russert and then passed on that information to Ms. Miller and Time magazine reporter Mathew Cooper.
When confronted with evidence that Vice President Cheney told him about Ms. Wilson a month before that conversation with Mr. Russert, Mr. Fitzgerald says Mr. Libby changed his story. "He said that in fact he had learned from the vice president earlier in June of 2003 information about Wilson's wife but he had forgotten it. And when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call, he learned it as if it were new. And when he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information that he received from reporters and that he told the reporters that in fact he didn't even know if it was true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls. It would be a compelling story that would lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment," he said.
The special prosecutor says Mr. Libby was involved in at least half-a-dozen conversations about Ms. Wilson before he started talking to reporters.
The indictments against Mr. Libby do not end the probe. The president's senior political advisor Karl Rove spoke with some of the same reporters and remains under investigation.
Mr. Fitzgerald says he is making no allegations that Vice President Cheney or anyone else involved in discussing Ms. Wilson has done anything wrong. "I can't give you answers on what we know and don't know other than what is charged in the indictment. It's not because I enjoy being in that position. It's because the law is that way. I actually think the law should be that way. We can't talk about information not contained in the four corners of the indictment," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald says when citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth because without it the criminal justice system could not serve the nation or its citizens. He says that requirement applies equally to all citizens, including those who hold high government positions.
Mr. Libby's lawyer says his client is confident that when the judicial process is complete he will be completely and totally exonerated of all charges.