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Lawmakers React to Libby Indictment


The indictment of White House aide Lewis Libby has prompted strong criticism from members of Congress. While all lawmakers say the justice system should be allowed to run its course, some Democrats are demanding congressional investigations, while Republicans caution against further politicization of the issue.

Some of the first reaction in the House of Representatives came from Democrats who took a close interest in the CIA leak controversy, and Bush administration policies in Iraq.

Congressman John Conyers said the charges against Mr. Libby prompt a larger question, in his words: what did President Bush and Vice President Cheney know about the revelations of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, and when did they know it?

The indictment, says Mr. Conyers, should be the beginning rather than the end of a process of holding the administration accountable for what he calls the pre-emptive war in Iraq.

House Democratic leaders lost no time jumping on the indictment as part of their campaign to keep attention focused on the administration's pre-war and current handling of Iraq.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called it another chapter in Republicans' culture of corruption, asserting that at the heart of the indictment is the administration's effort to discredit critics of its Iraq policy.

Although both congressional chambers had adjourned for the week, some House Democrats used an after-session debate period to renew calls for a congressional investigation. "We know that the justice system will proceed on its own, but I call now for the U.S. Congress and the leadership of this Congress to begin investigatory hearings as to the origins of the Iraq war," said Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

House Republican leaders have long resisted Democratic calls a congressional inquiry.

Among Republicans, Congressman Jack Kingston, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, called Mr. Libby's resignation appropriate, but added the indictment is not a statement of guilt.

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison emphasized the need for what she called an untarnished process void of prejudgments regarding Mr. Libby, saying the indictment is, in her words, the middle of the process, not the end.

Senator John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential nominee who lost to President Bush in the 2004 election, accused the White House of trying to cover up the use of national security information as a weapon against a critic of administration policy in Iraq.

That was a reference to the husband of Valerie Plame, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who became a key critic of President Bush's justifications for going to war in Iraq.

Democrat Edward Kennedy called the indictment, in his words, "an ominous day for the country, signifying a new low since Watergate in terms of openness and honesty in our government."

Amid the calls from Democrats for a joint congressional probe of the CIA leak affair, Senate Republican Majority leader Bill Frist issued a statement through a spokesman saying the Senate will not conduct an investigation of the CIA leak matter.