WASHINGTON — The verdict in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial was more
than a judgment against one of the Bush administration's most senior
aides: It was also seen as an indictment of the White House political
operation he helped design and direct.
it undermined the administration's credibility at a time when the
president is trying to build support for his Iraq war policy in the
face of increasingly outspoken opposition from Democrats and deepening
skepticism among voters.
THE FALL GUY
Libby trial juror Denis Collins said he was intrigued when Libby atty.Wells raised the idea that Libby was being made a scapegoat for Rove.
"There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury. It was said a number of times, `What are we doing with this guy here? Where's Rove? Where are these other guys?"' Collins said. "I'm not saying we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was, as Mr. Wells put it, he was the fall guy."
Libby's conviction on charges of lying to federal investigators raises
another difficult issue, one the White House may find it hard to shake
off as the 2008 political campaign gathers speed: the possibility of a
conviction on four counts of lying to federal investigators about the
Valerie Plame leak case hits the administration on several levels: In
addition to eroding its already weak credibility on Iraq, it sullies
the integrity of an administration that came into office with pledges
of moral rectitude.
Getting past those problems will be harder
because the question of whether Bush should or would use his pardon
power on Libby's behalf probably will dog the White House through the
2008 presidential campaign and into the last days of his
administration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threw down
the gauntlet just minutes after the verdict was read.
Libby has been convicted of perjury, but his trial revealed deeper
truths about Vice President Cheney's role in this sordid affair. Now
President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal
conduct," Reid said in a statement.
Libby's appeals will also keep the case in the spotlight.
many outside Washington saw the long trial as a kind of political
circus, the charges were some of the most serious to be prosecuted in
Washington in many years. As a result, the conviction may turn out to
be a more serious blow to the administration than many may have
"This administration was very scandal-free in its
early years," said David Gergen, a Republican political strategist and
expert in damage control. "Now for the first time they have a criminal
taint at the highest reaches of the president's circle. That's
something they are not going to be able to erase."
The verdict came amid a seeming torrent of bad news for the White House.
red-letter day for the administration," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who
was President Reagan's final White House chief of staff, noting other
news on Tuesday — the deaths from a bomb attack in Iraq, congressional
hearings on neglect of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and
a "happy-talk speech" on Iraq by Bush to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"This cascade of bad news doesn't stop, and it's catching up to them," Duberstein said, referring to Bush and Cheney.
rough road ahead for the White House was signaled by the aggressive
reactions of Democrats to news of the verdict — and by the effort of
many prominent Republicans to sidestep the development, rather than
rush to the administration's defense.
Democrats have long
complained that Bush's political aides have manipulated information and
policy decisions — both at home and overseas — to a degree
unprecedented in the recent past. They have blamed Cheney and his
aides, as well as political strategist Karl Rove, for their highly
political approach to the decision to depose Saddam Hussein and occupy
Iraq, as well as such issues as the abortive campaign to overhaul
"The jury's verdict confirms the lengths to
which the White House — particularly the office of the vice president —
was willing to go to conceal their effort to vilify anyone who spoke
the truth about the flaws in their justification for war," said Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
"Today's guilty verdicts are not
solely about the acts of one individual," said House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "This trial provided a troubling picture of
the inner workings of the Bush administration. The testimony
unmistakably revealed — at the highest levels of the Bush
administration — a callous disregard in handling sensitive national
security information and a disposition to smear critics of the war in
For the most part, Republicans tried to dodge questions about the verdict.
not going to comment," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), when confronted
with a question during a news conference, "except I will say I know
Scooter Libby and I've always considered him to be a fine man and a
dedicated public servant."
Tom Griscom, who as White House
communications director during the final two years of the Reagan
administration was at the center of efforts to rebuild the president's
image and political standing after the Iran-Contra scandal, said that
Bush, Cheney and their neoconservative advisors may not pay a huge
price for Libby's conviction.
That's because their credibility was already damaged, he said.The administration's integrity had been successfully challenged some
time ago, he said, as the reasons it cited for going to war in Iraq
began to crumble. "It's almost like this is just one more piece on …
that pile of lost credibility," he said.
said that because Libby worked directly for Cheney, his conviction
"taints the administration, but it doesn't go directly into the Oval
"This is clearly aimed at the vice president's office, not the Oval Office," he said.
Khachigian, a California Republican political consultant who has known
Cheney since they both worked in the Nixon administration, said the
verdict would have little political impact because "whatever negative
elements there were played out at the time of the investigation and
indictment. It's not going to get any worse."
One of the few
Republicans who sounded a defiant note was Mary Matalin, a former aide
to the vice president who serves as an outside advisor. Matalin said
she did not think that there would be any "political fallout" for
"Everyone is really sad," Matalin said, adding that
there was "lots of respect and affection for Scooter" among Cheney
Presidents often suffer politically for issuing
pardons, which helps explain why they usually wait until their final
days in office to do so. And in the most high-profile cases, it can be
up to the president's successor to issue the pardon.
instance, it was Bush's father who pardoned six former Reagan
administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Caspar W.
Weinberger in 1992.
Gergen said that Bush was unlikely to
consider a pardon until after the 2008 presidential campaign. Even then
it would be politically difficult, unless Libby's expected appeal was
past and he was already serving his sentence.
© 2007 Los Angeles Times