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Libby Indictments Latest Blow For Bush White House

President Bush suffered a political blow Friday with the indictment and subsequent resignation of Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Mr. Libby faces five criminal counts in connection with the investigation into the leaking of a covert CIA officer's identity two years ago.

The Libby indictments come at a bad time for the White House. President Bush's public approval ratings are at an all time low amid concern over U.S. casualties in Iraq and the government response to Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Libby was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington on a total of five criminal counts. They include obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in connection with the case of Valerie Plame.

Ms. Plame was a covert CIA operative who is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Ambassador Wilson accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq's mass weapons capability prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, a charge administration officials deny.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to find out whether Ms. Plame's identity was revealed as part of an effort to discredit Ambassador Wilson for his criticism on Iraq.

But the grand jury did not return any indictments on the central issue of whether anyone broke the law by revealing Ms. Plame's identity, which under certain circumstances is a violation of federal law.

Instead, the grand jury focused on allegations that Lewis Libby lied to investigators and the grand jury about where he first learned about Ms. Plame's identity.

Mr. Libby said it was from conversations with several prominent journalists. But prosecutor Fitzgerald told a Washington news conference that Mr. Libby first learned about Valerie Plame from government officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, not journalists. "At the end of the day, what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls passing along from one reporter what he heard from another was not true. It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, and that he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly," he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald says the vice president did nothing wrong in discussing Ms. Plame with other government officials.

Mr. Libby vows to fight the charges and both the president and vice president said he should be presumed innocent until there is a trial.

But a trial could also bring renewed focus on the controversy over how the Bush administration made the case to the American public about the need to go to war against Iraq.

In the meantime, Mr. Bush says he is committed to keep working on his main priorities, including the war on terrorism and the domestic economy. "I got a job to do and so do the people who work in the White House," he said.

Political analysts see the Libby indictments as the latest in a series of setbacks for the president less than a year after he won re-election.

Larry Sabato, an expert at the University of Virginia, said "any indictment of someone at that level is huge. It is a major story and a major distraction for the White House."

White House officials had been bracing for weeks for the possibility that the president's longtime chief political adviser, Karl Rove, might also be indicted in connection with the CIA leak investigation.

Mr. Rove was not indicted but the special prosecutor says he remains under investigation.

Some analysts worry that the leak probe could prove to be a major distraction for Mr. Rove at a time when the president needs him most.

Professor James Thurber is director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at the American University in Washington. "These are really dark days, in my opinion, for the White House. It is going to be very hard for the president in the future not having his personal friend (Mr. Rove) but also key political adviser there 100-percent thinking about helping the president," he said.

President Bush's political difficulties follow a pattern seen with other recent second term presidents, a trend some historians call second term blues.

The last two-term president, Democrat Bill Clinton, was impeached in connection with the sex and lies scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Clinton was acquitted in a Senate trial and finished his term.

Former President Ronald Reagan was plagued by the Iran-Contra scandal in his second term, a covert effort to win the release of U.S. hostages held by Islamic terrorists in Lebanon by selling arms to Iran and diverting some of the profits to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

But there is little doubt that President Richard Nixon suffered the worst case of second term blues because of the Watergate scandal.

Mr. Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 because of his efforts to cover up White House involvement in an eavesdropping operation targeting the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington.