Cheney elevates aides to posts held by Libby

Both held talks related to CIA leak case

no wrongdoing alleged

November 01, 2005|By TOM HAMBURGER AND PETER WALLSTEN | TOM HAMBURGER AND PETER WALLSTEN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- As lawmakers advised the Bush administration to clean house after last week's criminal charges against a top official in the CIA leak case, Vice President Dick Cheney elevated yesterday two aides who emerged as bit players in that saga to replace his indicted former chief of staff.

Cheney named his chief counsel, David S. Addington, yesterday as his new chief of staff. Addington replaces I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who resigned Friday after being charged with perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice in a grand jury investigation into how the identity of a covert CIA officer was leaked to reporters.

Like Libby, Addington is close to Cheney, has worked with him for two decades and does not shy from controversy or confrontation - co-authoring a memo that critics charged allowed torture to be used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects and leading the charge to keep secret the vice president's meetings with lobbyists as he drafted a national energy plan.

Libby's role as Cheney's national security adviser will be taken over by John Hannah, the vice president's deputy national security adviser.

Neither Addington nor Hannah was mentioned by name in the indictment, and neither was accused of wrongdoing. Both, according to the document, had discussions with Libby related to the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, and her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, who emerged in 2003 as a White House critic that administration officials were eager to rebut.

Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the former majority leader, joined Democrats in urging the White House to bring in new blood to fill leadership positions. That point was echoed yesterday by Democrats following the announcement that Hannah and Addington were being promoted.

"It is time for the president and vice president to bring in a new team of advisers who are above ethical reproach, like [President Ronald] Reagan did in his second term," said New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who as chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee hopes his party can make gains by painting the Bush White House as tainted by scandal.

Wilson had been sent by the CIA in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq had sought nuclear materials in the African country of Niger. In July 2003, Wilson went public in newspaper columns and on television, accusing the administration of "twisting" intelligence information to justify going to war. Eight days after Wilson's op-ed was published in The New York Times, syndicated columnist Robert Novak published the name and employment of Wilson's wife, suggesting that she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. Plame had worked as a covert officer, and in certain cases, revealing the identity of someone who is undercover can be a federal crime.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been investigating the leak of Plame's identity, and last week he accused Libby of impeding his investigation. The indictment notes that Cheney had early conversations with Libby about Wilson's trip and his wife's possible role in it. And it says that two days after Wilson went public with his criticism of the administration, Libby consulted with the vice president's counsel, Addington - asking what paperwork the CIA would have if an employee's spouse undertook an overseas trip.

The indictment says that Libby talked with Hannah, identified as Libby's principal deputy, about "complications at the CIA" if information about the Wilson trip was shared publicly.

Neither Hannah nor Addington has responded to questions about the indictment or what role, if any, they might have played in the subsequent release of Plame's name.

It would not have been inappropriate for Cheney, Libby or Hannah to have learned of the agent's identity as long as the men did not disclose the information outside their circle, which has legal clearance to review classified information.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan brushed aside questions yesterday about Cheney's role and the effect of the indictment on the White House, citing administration policy to refrain from commenting on the ongoing investigation. But he defended the promotion of Addington and Hannah.

"These are two individuals that have served the vice president very well since 2001," McClellan said. "And the vice president selected them because he values their judgment and their insight."

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten write for the Los Angeles Times.

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