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Analysts: Libby Conviction Could be Problematic for Bush Administration


Lawyers for former White House aide Lewis Libby are preparing their request for a new trial in the wake of Libby's conviction Tuesday. Libby was found guilty of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity in 2003. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington on the political fallout from the Libby verdict.

Lewis Libby is the highest-ranking former White House official convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration.

Libby is Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. He was convicted on four of five counts of either lying to or misleading FBI investigators and a federal grand jury about his conversations with journalists about Valerie Plame.

Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's mass weapons capabilities in the run-up to the war in 2003. Wilson says Bush administration officials, including Libby, leaked his wife's CIA status to journalists as part of an effort to discredit him.

Wilson expressed satisfaction in the wake of the Libby verdict.

"As people who not only love our country, but have served our country for a combination of 45 years, we are grateful to see those basic tenets of democracy still stand firm," he said.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald led the four-year investigation into the CIA leak case. Although no one was ever charged with leaking Plame's identity, Fitzgerald says it was important to prosecute Libby for lying to investigators and the grand jury about his role in the case.

"Any person telling a lie under oath to a grand jury is a serious problem," he said. "Having someone, a high level official, do that under oath in a national security investigation is something that can never be acceptable."

Libby's attorney, Ted Wells, says he will ask for a new trial and, if that request is denied, will appeal his conviction.

"We have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated," he said.

And Libby still has defenders among Republicans in Congress, including Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

"I will say that I know Scooter Libby, and I have always considered him a fine man and a dedicated public servant," he said.

Some Libby supporters are now floating the idea of a presidential pardon before President Bush leaves office in January of 2009.

"Anybody in the United States of America who has been convicted can apply for a pardon," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "I am not going to characterize, one way or another, what happens in this case when it comes to a pardon, because it is inappropriate."

Democrats have seized on the Libby conviction as a victory for those demanding that the Bush administration be held accountable for what they saw as manipulation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq and a campaign to discredit war critics.

"I think it needs to shift to the White House now, shift to the White House and find out what the president is going to do about this," said Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, who is the Senate Majority Leader. "He said in the past that anyone who is a leaker would be relieved of duty in the White House. He should follow through on that now, because we have sworn testimony that there were people within the White House, in addition to Libby, who were leaking information."

Political analysts say the Libby conviction could bring new problems for the Bush administration, which is already under pressure to turn around an unpopular war in Iraq.

"This is not a minor White House munchkin," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It is the former chief of staff to the most powerful vice president of the United States in history."

Even though Lewis Libby was on trial in the CIA leak case, many political and legal analysts saw Vice President Cheney as the central figure in the case. Cheney was upset with Wilson's allegations about pre-war intelligence on Iraq and instructed Libby to talk to journalists to try and counter Wilson's criticisms.

Prosecutor Fitzgerald told the jury in summing up his case that there was a cloud over the vice president because of the Plame leak.

That is a view shared by William Galston, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"The special prosecutor has indicated that this is probably going to be the only indictment that he will bring in the entire case," he said. "So, I believe that the vice president is off the hook legally, but he is not off the hook politically."

Galston says the fallout from the Libby case is likely to have more of an impact on Vice President Cheney's standing with the public, and less of an impact on President Bush.

"I do not think this is going to have a huge impact on the president for one very simple reason, so many other things have gone wrong for this president that I do not think this is going to drive his [poll] ratings down much farther," he said.

Libby will be sentenced in June and could face up to 25 years in prison, though legal analysts expect he will get a much shorter jail term.