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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Libby’s alleged obstruction leaves questions unanswered

A federal grand jury's indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on Friday is a good start to getting to the bottom of a nasty political intrigue.

The 5 charges, including obstructing justice, making false statements and perjury, reach deep into the vice president's office in a two-year-investigation into who at the White House leaked the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Bush administration apologists will surely say that the charges are what a prosecutor resorts to when he finds insufficient evidence of a "real" crime. Those who hold such a view should think back to President Clinton's troubled second term. The Kenneth Starr investigation was supposed to be about possible shenanigans in a failed real estate deal in Arkansas, but ended up charging the president with perjury for lying about sexual indiscretions — a crime that put no one's life in jeopardy.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald must not let his investigation into the White House leak get sidetracked. While there are plenty of subplots to the growing Washington melodrama, the focus must continue to be who divulged Ms. Plame's identity and who authorized the disclosure.

The inexcusable reason Ms. Plame's cover was blown was to discredit her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. The CIA sent him to investigate a report that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger — one of the administration's chief reasons for invading Iraq.

Mr. Wilson found the report to be bogus. Nonetheless, President Bush included the report in his State of the Union address. Wilson subsequently wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times accusing Mr. Bush of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq.

Eight days later, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, citing two administration sources, revealed Ms. Plame's identity in a column in retribution for Mr. Wilson's criticism of the White House.

Mr. Novak is not the only reporter to whom Ms. Plame's identity was revealed. The grand jury investigation also revealed that administration sources leaked her identity to Time magazine's Matt Cooper and The Times' reporter Judith Miller, neither of whom reported it but both of whom testified before the grand jury.

There are many interesting subplots to this drama and still more questions. Did Mr. Libby or presidential adviser Karl Rove, who has testified four times and has been identified by reporters as a source of the leak, know Ms. Plame was a covert agent? If so, the revelation violates a federal law protecting covert agents' identities. If not, the incident is still a deplorable example of the political dirty tricks that the administration plays to discredit its opponents, without regard to the consequences for government employees or national security.

According to the indictment, Vice President Dick Cheney revealed Ms. Plame's identity to Mr. Libby.

Unfortunately, because Mr. Libby allegedly lied to the grand jury and investigators, many important questions remain unanswered.

Stay tuned for Act II.

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