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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheney Aide Indicted in Leak

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff resigned Friday after he was indicted by a grand jury that accused him of obstructing its investigation and lying about an effort to blow the CIA cover of an Iraq war critic's wife.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby became the first high-ranking White House official in decades to be criminally charged while in office. A second major figure in the two-year CIA leak investigation, presidential strategist Karl Rove, was spared from criminal charges for the time being.

The 22-page indictment was the latest blow in one of the darkest weeks of the George W. Bush presidency, which also saw the 2,000th U.S. military death in Iraq and the embarrassing withdrawal of Harriet Miers as Bush's nominee to be a justice on the Supreme Court.

Bush, whose approval rating is near the lowest point of his presidency, praised Libby's years of government service but acknowledged the "ongoing legal proceedings are serious."

Libby's indictment clears the way for a trial that could renew the focus on the Bush team's faulty rationale for going to war against Iraq, the erroneous assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Libby is considered Cheney's alter ego, a chief architect of the war with Iraq. A trial would give the public a rare glimpse into Cheney's influential role in the presidential West Wing offices and his behind-the-scenes lobbying for war. The vice president, who prizes secrecy, could be called as a witness.

Fitzgerald's investigation is nearing an end, and the grand jury he used for the past two years expired Friday. In the American system, a grand jury hears evidence presented by a prosecutor and determines whether it is sufficient to file charges. No defense evidence is heard.

Libby was not indicted for the leak, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald left little doubt that he believed Cheney's top aide learned Valerie Plame's secret job from the CIA, State Department and his own boss, then revealed it to reporters.

Libby's attorney, Joseph Tate, promised to vigorously challenge the charges.

Although Cheney was among officials who told Libby of Plame's secret work for the CIA before it was leaked to reporters, Fitzgerald said he was not alleging wrongdoing by the vice president.

Fitzgerald's investigation is nearing an end, and the grand jury he used for the past two years expired Friday. He said, "It's not over," but would not speak about Rove's position. The prosecutor is still weighing whether to charge Bush's closest political adviser with making false statements, lawyers said.

Friday's charges stemmed from a two-year investigation into whether Rove, Libby or any other administration official knowingly revealed Plame's identity in 2003 to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his criticism of the Bush administration's use of prewar Iraq intelligence.

In the end, prosecutors zeroed in on an alleged cover-up.

Libby, 55, was charged with five felonies alleging obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents. He could face a maximum 30 years in prison and fines totaling $1.25 million if convicted.

Fitzgerald suggested that proving Libby lied to the grand jury would be an easier case to make than showing he intentionally revealed a secret officer's cover.

"Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true. It was false," Fitzgerald said. "And he lied about it afterward, under oath, repeatedly."