Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Saga of Washington's discredited WMD claims leads to the conviction for perjury of Dick Cheney's key aide
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
"In a massive new blow to the credibility of the White House, Vice-President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Lewis Libby has been convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI, during the investigation into the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent.
After a seven-week trial, the jury found Libby guilty yesterday on four of the five counts against him. Ever calm in court, Libby merely blinked as the verdict was read out. Defence lawyers immediately said they would seek a fresh trial, and if that failed, lodge an appeal. In theory Libby faces up to 25 years in jail, though federal sentencing guidelines mean he is likely to receive a far shorter term.......
But there is no concealing the extent of the damage. Libby is not only the most senior Bush administration official to face - and now be convicted of - criminal charges. As chief of staff to arguably the most powerful vice-president in US history, he was one of the two or three most important policy-makers at the White House after the President and Vice-President.
The trial, in which neither Libby nor his former boss testified, threw no new light on the handling of the WMD intelligence used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it revealed the obsessive sensitivity of the Vice-President's office to any attack on its pre-war use of intelligence, and its determination to discredit critics.
At one point the prosecution produced a specimen of the offending article, annotated by Mr Cheney himself, asking who Mr Wilson was, and whether he had been sent on his 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa as a "junket" organised by his wife. The guilty verdict against Libby is thus bound to tarnish further the reputation of both Mr Bush and Mr Cheney, whose approval ratings are even lower than those of the President......"