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Ex-Cheney aide pleads not guilty

Libby charged with five felony counts in CIA leak probe

A courtroom sketch shows I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby pleading not guilty during his arraignment Thursday.



I. Lewis Libby
Dick Cheney
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Crime, Law and Justice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former top adviser made his first court appearance Thursday, pleading not guilty to felony charges of lying to investigators and a grand jury in the probe into a leak of a CIA agent's name.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby appeared before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who set the next court date for February 3 and released Libby on his own recognizance.

"With respect your honor, I plead not guilty," Libby said.

Outside the courthouse, one of Libby's attorneys, Ted Wells, said, "In pleading not guilty he has declared to the world that he is innocent. He has declared that intends to fight the charges in the indictment, and he has declared that he wants to clear his good name."

Wells added that Libby welcomed a jury trial.

Libby did not speak to reporters.

The 55-year-old faces one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. ( Watch the first steps in the legal showdown -- 1:31)

Libby resigned as Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser Friday, the day a federal grand jury handed up an indictment against him after an investigation into who told reporters the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the wife of a former diplomat who had criticized the Bush administration.

Libby is accused of lying to the grand jury and FBI agents about where he first learned Plame's identity and what he later told reporters about her. (Charges explained)

He is not charged with deliberately disclosing the name of a covert agent, which is a federal offense.

NBC's Tim Russert, Time magazine's Matt Cooper and The New York Times' Judith Miller are among the reporters Libby spoke to about Plame, according to the indictment.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Libby told the grand jury and FBI agents that he first learned that Plame worked at the CIA from Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," during a conversation on July 10, 2003.

Fitzgerald said Friday that before Libby spoke to Russert, he had at least seven conversations about Wilson and Plame with other government officials, including Cheney and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Fitzgerald also said Russert contradicted Libby's version of events, saying that neither Plame nor her husband, Joe Wilson, were discussed.

The indictment also accuses Libby of lying to the grand jury and FBI agents about the details of his conversations with Cooper.

Fitzgerald said Libby's actions were designed to frustrate the probe and prevent investigators from finding out how the leak occurred.

"The need to get to the bottom of what happened -- and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness -- is extremely important," Fitzgerald said. "Anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime."

Fitzgerald charged that Libby told FBI agents and the grand jury that "he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another" about Plame. But the prosecutor said Libby was "at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter."

However, Fitzgerald said in order to charge Libby with a crime for leaking Plame's identity, the prosecution would have to prove Libby knew the information was classified at the time he shared it and that he acted with recklessness.

If convicted on all counts, Libby could face up to 30 years in prison and as much as $1.25 million in fines, though the actual sentence likely would be less severe.

The event that triggered the legal and political quagmire that has put the White House on edge was a Robert Novak column about Wilson, published on July 14, 2003.

A week before, Wilson had accused the Bush administration, intent on building a case to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, of hyping unsupported claims that Saddam bought uranium for nuclear weapons in the African nation of Niger.

Novak, a syndicated columnist who is also a CNN contributor, wrote about the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the claims, which later wound up in Bush's 2003 State of Union address.

In the column, Novak noted that Wilson "never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."

An angry Wilson accused administration officials of deliberately leaking his wife's identity as a CIA operative and ending her career as an undercover agent to retaliate against him for his public criticism.

While the indictment of Libby was a blow for the White House, Fitzgerald and his grand jury did not bring charges against Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, who was also entangled in the case.

But Fitzgerald said Friday the probe was "not over," indicating Rove might have legal concerns in the future.

CNN's Kevin Bohn and John King contributed to this report.

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