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U.S.: Bush Says CIA Leak Indictment 'Serious'

Lewis Libby yesterday (epa) U.S. President George W. Bush says the CIA leak investigation that has resulted in the indictment of senior White House official Lewis Libby is "serious." It is too early to tell how serious the case may turn out to be for the administration. Bush has vowed to press forward with his agenda, but analysts called the indictment a political setback that will distract attention from Bush's policy priorities.

Washington, 29 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday's indictment and resignation of a top White House aide marks one of the lowest moments of the Bush presidency.

The aide, Lewis Libby, was chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney and played a key role in shaping security policy, including the invasion of Iraq. The indictment did not name President Bush's close aide Karl Rove, but Rove may remain under investigation in the criminal case involving the leak of a CIA officer's name.

In a brief statement to reporters, Bush stressed Libby's presumed innocence before trial and cited his service to the country. Bush said he will press on with his governing agenda.

"While we are all saddened by today's news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country," Bush said. "I've got a job to do and so do the people who work in the White House. We got a job to protect the American people and that is what we'll continue working hard to do."

But the indictment is expected to shadow the administration. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald says his investigation, which has sought repeated testimony from Rove, is not finished. And critics of the administration's decision to invade Iraq are expected to revive complaints about the way it has been handled.

At the center of leak probe are assumptions that Bush administration attempts to counter an Iraq war critic led to the revelation of the identity of his wife, a CIA agent.

The leader of minority Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Senator Harry Reid, issued a statement yesterday saying the case highlighted the White House's manipulation of intelligence to bolster its case for the war in Iraq.

Test For Presidency

Bush is facing low public opinion poll ratings, the recent withdrawal of a Supreme Court candidate, and concerns over the war in Iraq. His administration now will be linked to a criminal probe at a time it is seeking to refocus attention on its domestic agenda, says James Thurber, a political scientist at American University in Washington.

Thurber compares the situation with scandals that plagued the later years of the presidencies of presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

"There really is a vacuum, a power vacuum at this point in the White House as a result of this. And his [Bush's] best friend and political advisor Karl Rove is still under a cloud of suspicion and that doesn't make it any easier for president," Thurber said.

Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and an expert on the presidency, told RFE/RL he expects the administration to be preoccupied with "damage control" in the near future.

But Rozell said Bush should use this occasion to bring in some new advisors and revive his presidency.

"I think this is a big setback for the administration, no doubt about it, and it takes the focus away from the president's agenda for the short time but if it forces the president to bring some new blood into the administration and to refocus the administration and get away from all the scandal politics and so forth, I think it could be something like a new beginning that could help the administration in the long run," Rozell said.

Libby was indicted for obstructing justice, perjury, and lying after a two-year investigation into who leaked the identity of the CIA officer. Libby will now have a public trial. The grand jury proceeding, required for all federal felonies, was private and there was no cross examination or presentation of the defense case.