Libby defiant as Senate investigates Rove's role

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The Independent US

An official said yesterday that Mr Libby would appear in a federal court in Washington on Thursday morning, where he would be formally charged, or arraigned. He faces five charges ­ two of lying to investigators, two of lying to a grand jury and one of obstructing justice ­ in relation to the leaking of the identity of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

Mr Libby, 55, has made it clear he will plead not guilty. He was replaced yesterday by David Addington, a longtime aide to Vice-President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser. Mr Addington was among the authors of a White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects.

Over the weekend Mr Libby's lawyers said they would argue that, as a busy White House official, he could not be expected to recollect the full details of every conversation he had with reporters. They will deny that he deliberately intended to lie to either investigators or members of the grand jury about what he had told reporters about Ms Plame.

Last Friday, as he resigned his position as Mr Cheney's chief of staff, Mr Libby declared: "I am confident that at the end of this process I will be completely and utterly exonerated."

The issue of greatest concern now to the White House is what may emerge during Mr Libby's trial. It has already been revealed that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, may wish to call Mr Cheney as a witness, especially since the indictments revealed that Mr Libby had learnt about the identity and position of Ms Plame from several sources, one of whom was the Vice-President.

The trial could also become a wider inquiry that examines the processes that went on in the White House as senior officials plotted to make the case to the public of the need to launch an invasion of Iraq.

At the weekend, the Democratic leader on Capitol Hill, Senator Harry Reid, said it was important for Mr Bush to promptly apologise to the public. " First of all, the Vice-President issues this very terse statement praising Libby for all the great things he's done," Mr Reid said on ABC television. "Then we have the President come on camera a few minutes later calling him Scooter and what a great patriot he is. There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House."

Public opinion certainly appears to be running against Mr Bush. A poll published by The Washington Post found that almost half of the people asked ­ 46 per cent ­ said the level of ethics and honesty in the federal government had fallen since Mr Bush became President. That is three times as many as those who said ethics and honesty had risen during his tenure.

The CIA leak affair goes to the heart of the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq. Ms Plame was outed by a conservative newspaper columnist after her husband, Joe Wilson, questioned White House claims that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons fuel from Niger. Mr Wilson, a former US ambassador to Africa, had travelled to Niger to investigate the claims at the behest of the Bush administration and found them to be false.

Some Republicans had claimed that Ms Plame's identity was already widely known within Washington. But one of the Wilsons' neighbours, David Tillotson, said this was not so. He told The Independent he and his wife understood Valerie to be a "consultant". "If anyone would have known, we would have," he said. "We are friends and neighbours and we interacted a lot."

Yesterday, Mr Wilson called for Mr Bush to fire Mr Rove, who also talked to journalists about Ms Plame.