Tuesday, November 01, 2005

W.House plays down shake-up calls after indictment


W.House plays down shake-up calls after indictment

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday played down calls for a staff shake-up after the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, Lewis Libby, who will make his first court appearance this week on criminal charges stemming from a CIA-leak probe.

At his arraignment on Thursday, Libby, Cheney's longtime chief of staff, is expected to plead innocent to charges of obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements.

Top White House aide Karl Rove, who remains under investigation in the probe, received a word of confidence from the White House amid Democratic calls for his resignation.

"He continues to do his duties," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Rove, Bush's top political adviser and deputy chief of staff. When asked if Bush retained confidence in Rove, McClellan said: "People who work here at the White House have the confidence of the president."

Members of both parties have urged Bush to shake up his White House staff.

"There's no discussion of staff changes beyond the usual vacancies that occur, or beyond filling the vacancy that the vice president did," McClellan said. But he added: "It's always the president's prerogative to choose the team that best meets his needs for advancing his agenda."

Cheney on Monday named vice presidential counsel David Addington as his new chief of staff and John Hannah as his national security adviser. Libby held both positions before his indictment and resignation on Friday.

A brief conversation between Addington and Libby in July 2003 is cited as evidence in the indictment.

Libby is the only Cheney aide who has been charged in the two-year probe into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

But Cheney and others in the vice president's office, including Addington, talked with Libby about Plame's job and press strategy, the indictment alleges.

At Libby's arraignment, scheduled at 10:30 a.m. (1530 GMT) on Thursday, federal Judge Reggie Walton could set a schedule for the filing of motions and possibly a trial date.

Libby, who faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted, has promised a vigorous defense.

Libby is expected to argue that any misinformation he gave investigators or the grand jury was due to memory lapses rather than intentional lies, according to Libby's lawyer and other attorneys involved in the case.


Libby's indictment was a damaging blow to the White House, already reeling from the mounting U.S. death toll in Iraq, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and the withdrawal of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

Plame's identity was leaked to the media in July 2003 after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence to support action against Iraq. Wilson called the leak a ploy to erode his credibility.

A public trial could expose the role played by Cheney's secretive office in the leak case, which has put a spotlight on how the administration sold the nation on the war in Iraq and aggressively countered its critics.

Lawyers involved in the case said Cheney himself and other top White House officials named in the indictment could be called as witnesses.

According to the indictment, Libby learned from Cheney himself that Wilson's wife worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division.

Addington is referred to in the indictment only as "Counsel to the Vice President." It says Libby met with Addington on July 8, 2003 and discussed "what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee's spouse undertook an overseas trip."

Wilson took a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa in 2002 to check out a claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. He says Cheney's office sought to discredit Wilson and his findings by suggesting the trip was arranged by his wife at the CIA.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Steve Holland)