Libby pleads not guilty to CIA leak case charges

Ex-Cheney aide promises through lawyers that he'll clear his name


WASHINGTON -- Six days after being indicted by a federal grand jury, former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that he repeatedly lied to investigators and a grand jury in the CIA leak case and vowing through his lawyers to "clear his good name."

Libby formally entered his plea during a 10-minute arraignment, accompanied by a new team of defense lawyers and his wife. On crutches after sustaining a foot injury, he hobbled to the lectern and spoke to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in a clear but quiet voice.

"With respect, your honor, I plead not guilty," said Libby, who was forced by the indictment to resign last week as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and assistant to President Bush.

Libby waived his right to have the 22-page indictment against him read in open court. Later, he was fingerprinted and photographed by federal marshals and released on his own recognizance.

The hearing, marking Libby's first appearance in court since he was indicted, launched a contentious new phase in a case that continues to cast a shadow over the Bush administration and which has fueled the debate over the intelligence it used to justify war in Iraq.

Libby revealed an augmented defense team, including two of the nation's most prominent criminal lawyers, one of whom raised the possibility of "protracted litigation." Prosecutors indicated that the "voluminous" amount of classified information they have unearthed during their investigation could mean that at least some of the proceedings would be held out of public view. Walton scheduled a Feb. 3 status conference with attorneys in the case. He did not set a trial date.

Libby, 55, faces five charges of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The indictment followed a 22-month investigation by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into who leaked to the press the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame in the summer of 2003.

Plame is married to Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, who had accused the administration in a July 6, 2003, newspaper op-ed article of twisting the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Eight days later, the identity of his wife was disclosed by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak.

Fitzgerald has said his investigation is not yet complete; White House political adviser Karl Rove has said through his lawyer that he may still be charged.

Fitzgerald told Walton that it would take the government two weeks to present its evidence at trial.

Under the federal rules of criminal procedure, prosecutors are required to turn over to the accused all evidence they have that might in any way be exculpatory to the defense. Fitzgerald said at the hearing that his office would begin that process starting next week but cautioned that it would be slowed because of the amount of classified information involved.

He added that defense lawyers would also have to obtain security clearances to see some of the information. "It is voluminous," he said.

Libby's lawyers indicated they were in no hurry to see the case go to trial.

William Jeffress Jr., one of the lawyers, told Walton there might be "protracted litigation" about access to classified information as well as "First Amendment issues." He did not elaborate.

Dan Richman, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York and a former federal prosecutor, said it was a "classic defense tactic" in cases involving classified information to attack the government for withholding documents necessary for the defense.

He speculated that the defense might assert that Plame's CIA affiliation was widely known before the leak occurred, and that revealing her identity caused no damage. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, would likely try to keep the case narrowly focused on whether Libby had told the truth to investigators, Richman said.

The charges against Libby are rooted in what he told FBI agents and the grand jury about conversations he had with three journalists in the days before the identity of Plame was publicly revealed.

The indictment said that Libby learned about Plame's CIA affiliation from sources in the government, including Cheney, his boss. But when he talked to investigators, Libby said that he had learned Plame's identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert, according to the indictment. Libby is also charged with lying about the circumstances of conversations related to Plame that he had with two other journalists, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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