Libby trial

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(HOST) The White House would like the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff in the CIA leak case, to be the end of the story. Commentator Barrie Dunsmore explains why it won’t be.

(DUNSMORE) When special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictments of Lewis Libby last week, he said his case had nothing to do with the war in Iraq. The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relate only to what Libby said under oath to the FBI and the grand jury.

But as I and others have been saying for many months, the context of the investigation into who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame is all about the war. As the chief of staff of the most powerful vice president in history, Scooter Libby was one of the architects of the war. Cheney was the administration’s most stri- dent voice in making the case for war in repeated unequivocal charges that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who initially went to jail rather that reveal Libby as her source, wrote a series of persuasive stories about those weapons of mass destruction – it’s evident now – with help from Libby. And agent Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a critic of the war who accused the admini- stration of “twisting” the intelligence to justify the invasion. If this case goes to trial, the witness list will be a who’s who of senior administration officials, almost certainly including the Vice Pres- ident – and the war in Iraq will be the backdrop against which the entire spectacle plays out.

Journalists, too, will be called on to testify. And frankly, if it were just their word against Libby’s, I’m not sure how strong the prose- cutor’s case would be. Journalists have taken a severe hit in this case, especially Judy Miller, whose credibility has been fractured by her own conflicting accounts of what she knew and how she knew it. Certainly Miller has written her last story for the Times.

However, the case will not depend primarily on what journalists testify at any trial. Libby repeatedly said under oath that he only heard of the agent’s identity from reporters. But the prosecutor
has ample evidence that long before Libby ever talked to the press about Plame, he knew a good deal about her from people within the administration – including the Vice President himself. But we should not automatically assume there will be a trial. Libby will know that such a trial would be a media circus and major embar- rassment to the president and especially the vice president to whom he is so devoted. He currently faces a maximum of thirty years in prison but to avoid such a trial, he might decide to plead guilty to some lesser charges.

And if Libby doesn’t incriminate any other Bush officials in these proceedings, when the President completes his second term he could grant loyal soldier Libby a full pardon. That’s been done before.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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