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Court Proceedings in U.S. and Italy

Ex-Cheney aide to appear in court
Libby expected to enter not guilty plea

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff is making his first court appearance since his indictment in the CIA leak investigation, a case in which Bush administration officials including Cheney could be summoned to testify.

I. Lewis Libby was expected to plead innocent Thursday before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton.

Libby signaled his determination to fight the charges after last week's grand jury indictment, which has provided more fuel to the political debate over the White House's possible misuse of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

The Libby case stems from a 22-month criminal investigation by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

Cheney's former top aide was charged Friday with lying to investigators about leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson.

Plame's name was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak after Wilson accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence in the run-up to the war to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Wilson accused the Bush administration of covering up his inquiry into whether Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from from Niger. He found no substance to the claim, but Bush included the allegation in his State of the Union speech accusing Iraq of pursuing banned weapons of mass destruction programs.

Meanwhile, in Rome, an aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi and an intelligence director are to appear before an Italian parliamentary commission Thursday to respond to allegations that Italy knowingly gave the U.S. and Britain forged documents suggesting Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa.

Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni Letta and Nicolo Pollari, the director of Italy's SISMI intelligence agency, will be questioned by members of a parliamentary commission overseeing secret services, said Micaela Panella, a spokeswoman for the commission.

Pollari requested the hearing after the allegations emerged in a newspaper last week. The Rome daily La Repubblica reported that the government gave the United States and Britain documents known to be forged that detailed a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium concentrate from Niger. The uranium ore, known as yellowcake, can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Berlusconi's government has denied any wrongdoing and the premier has personally defended Pollari in the face of calls for his resignation.

Wilson claims the Bush administration leaked his wife's CIA identity to punish him for writing about the Niger-Iraq-uranium probe.

The U.S. indictment says Libby got information about Plame's identity in June 2003 from Cheney, the State Department and the CIA, then spread it to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. Libby told FBI agents and a federal grand jury that his information had come from NBC reporter Tim Russert.

Russert says he and Libby never discussed Wilson or his wife.

Miller, who never wrote a story, said Libby told her about the CIA connection of Wilson's wife. Cooper said Libby was one of his sources for a story identifying the CIA connection of Wilson's wife.

Libby attorney Joseph Tate said inconsistencies in recollections among people regarding long-ago events should not be charged as crimes. Libby, who says he is confident he will be exonerated, is accused of one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of lying to FBI agents and two counts of perjury before a federal grand jury.

The judge handling Libby's case is an appointee of three Republican presidents.

Early in his career, Walton was a highly respected trial lawyer for the U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia. When President Reagan appointed him to D.C. Superior Court, Walton became known as a no-nonsense judge who was tough on sentencing street criminals.

He served as the senior White House adviser for crime in the administration of President George W. Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, before returning to Superior Court. In 2001, Bush nominated Walton to the U.S. District Court.

Senate Democrats have seized on the Libby indictment to put the Bush administration on the defensive, focusing attention on the possible manipulation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq and the failure by Senate Republicans on the intelligence committee to promptly finish an investigation of the issue.

Democrats are pressing for the intelligence committee to examine:

The administration's strongly worded pre-war statements on the Iraqi threat and whether they match up with the actual intelligence.

The role of the pro-war Iraq National Congress, an exile group run by Ahmad Chalabi, in feeding information from defectors to the Pentagon and to Cheney's office.

The intelligence activities of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which fed policy-makers uncorroborated prewar intelligence on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, particularly involving purported ties with the al Qaeda terror network.

The pre-war intelligence assessment and its failure to predict the postwar insurgency.
"Any line of questioning that has brought us too close to the White House has been thwarted," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee. "We have been undermined, avoided, put off and vilified by the other side."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that the Clinton administration and fellow Democrats used intelligence to come to the same conclusion as the Bush administration, that Saddam Hussein and his regime were a threat.



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