WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top White House aide’s guilty verdict in an investigation tied to the Iraq war is likely to haunt President George W. Bush for the rest of his term, experts say.
Speculation over a possible pardon of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, began almost immediately after the verdict was announced on Tuesday. Plans for an appeal as well as a separate civil suit promise to keep the case in the news for most if not all of the 22 months Bush has left in office.
Libby remains free as his lawyers seek a new trial or appeal his conviction -- a process that is likely to push back the announced sentencing date of June 5.
The outcome also raised more questions about Cheney, long regarded as one of the most powerful people in the administration, prompting White House spokesman Tony Snow on Wednesday to deny the case would affect his influence.
“The vice president still remains a trusted aide. The vice president is somebody upon whose counsel the president depends,” he said.
Colby College government professor Anthony Corrado said the case would impact Bush’s ability to get things done.
“It’s an outcome that’s going to further diminish the president’s standing on Capitol Hill and make it more difficult for the administration to press its cause in its final two years here,” Corrado said.
University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato added: “The biggest problem Bush has is Iraq, and this reinforces his problems.”
“It just reminds people that ... they (the Bush administration) totally own this highly unpopular war,” he said.
The high-profile trial revealed the inner workings of the White House and became the latest setback for the Bush administration’s war policy. It followed previous flaps over flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, the failure to contain a violent insurgency and sectarian strife, prisoner abuses and an outcry over treatment of U.S. war wounded.
No one is likely to face criminal charges for actually leaking CIA secrets; Libby was found guilty of lying and obstructing a probe into the affair.
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said he didn’t plan to charge anyone else in the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative identified after her husband accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to build its case for war.
In the aftermath of the trial that transfixed Washington, some were suggesting Libby was merely a scapegoat for higher-ups who were running a campaign to discredit critics of the war.
Many in the jury felt that other officials who leaked Plame’s name to reporters, such as senior White House aide Karl Rove, should have been on trial, one juror said.
“Three or four times during this trial someone in jury would say, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we dealing with Libby? Where are the other guys?'” juror Denis Collins said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Plame’s lawyers said the trial would help their own civil case against Cheney, Libby and Rove, among others.
“The American public learned details of how Vice President Cheney orchestrated the concerted White House effort to discredit and retaliate against Joe Wilson,” the lawyers said.
Sabato said, “This is not some minor Munchkin in the office, Libby was Cheney’s eyes and ears. It’s hard to believe that Cheney didn’t know everything.”
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and JoAnne Allen