AS Richard Nixon discovered thirty-odd years ago, in Washington the cover-up can be worse than the crime. Anyone listening to the live TV transmission on Friday evening of the briefing on the Lewis Libby indictment given by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, will have been astonished by the constitutional and procedural complexity of his inquiry and his awesome mastery of the detail of the case he has been probing for the past two years. The charge against Mr Libby, VicePresident Cheney's chief of staff, is that he did knowingly and corruptly endeavour to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice by misleading and deceiving as to when, and the manner and means by which, he acquired and subsequently disclosed to the media information concerning the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA. Valerie Wilson (or Plame) was a covert CIA agent and wife of ambassador Joseph Wilson. He was sent to Niger in Africa to check British intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein had obtained uranium there. Mr Wilson said the reports were wrong but President Bush and Mr Cheney continued to refer to them publicly as it they were true and proved the weapons of mass destruction allegation against Iraq. After Mr Wilson wrote an article in the New York Times saying that the reports were in fact wrong, three journalists were told by White House sources that Mr Wilson's wife was Valerie Wilson/Plame. Identifying a covert agent is a criminal offence. Mr Bush said that if anyone in the White House was involved he would be fired.
As the charge against Mr Libby quoted above makes clear, he is not directly accused of leaking Valerie Wilson/Plame's name but unquestionably that leak and the events that led to it are at the heart of the trial that will begin early next year. It seems inevitable that Mr Cheney (and possibly Mr Bush also) will be called to give evidence and that the whole issue of how and why America decided to go to war against Iraq will be opened up.
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