Washington, Oct. 28: President George W. Bush’s nemesis ' a combination of elements of Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky scandals under his watch ' claimed its first victim within the White House today.
Vice-president Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and chief of staff, Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making a false statement and perjury in the leak of a covert CIA operative’s name.
Libby immediately sent his resignation to Bush. Libby wears a third hat as assistant to the President. His indictment is only the first act in a drama that began more than two years ago when Robert Novak, a leading columnist, identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative.
It is an offence in the US to identify a covert CIA agent: Plame’s name was allegedly leaked to Novak and other journalists by top White House aides in revenge as her husband, US diplomat Joseph Wilson, had come out against Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
The next act in the continuing drama will focus on the role of Bush confidant and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in the leak. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who pursued the indictment of Libby, will continue to probe Rove, whom Bush acknowledged as the “architect” of his second-term election win last year.
Today’s indictment comes as the Bush presidency is unsteady in a sea of scandals and missteps.
Yesterday, Bush withdrew the name of Harriet Miers, his long-time personal lawyer whom he had nominated for a lifetime job as a justice in the US Supreme Court.
Miers, who has not been a judge in any lower court even for a day, was perceived as a novice on constitutional issues and there were charges of cronyism.
Bush lost another strong pillar of support last month when the leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, resigned after he was indicted on money-laundering charges.
The Republican Senate leader, Bill Frist, is facing allegations of insider trading.
In handing out Libby’s indictment, the Special Counsel has not charged the Cheney aide with actually leaking the CIA operative’s name.
Instead, as in the Watergate scandal, the prosecution is focusing on a cover-up by Libby in making false statements and obstructing justice.
The latest Washington crisis has shades of the Monica Lewinsky scandal sans sex because it involves several women: mysterious agent Plame and intrepid investigative reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times.
In the Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, the same offences staring at Libby and other possible Bush aides.