- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

The White House breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when a special counsel did not charge President Bush’s top political adviser in the probe of a CIA leak, settling instead on the indictment of a lesser-known aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, Republican strategists say.

The indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. does not have the political firepower charges against Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief adviser, would have had and thus will result in far less damage to the White House, they said.

“Libby is not a household name and he is not going to be a significant loss in the minds of the average American. The average voter out there who doesn’t pay close attention would think it is a big deal if Bush lost Karl because he was in trouble,” said CharlieBlack, a veteran campaign strategist with close ties to the Bush White House.

“They are not going to think much of Libby because they have probably never heard of him.”

Republican advisers say the ensuing legal action against Mr. Libby, who immediately resigned, by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald will recede from the news during the normal course of events and other White House actions, beginning with Mr. Bush’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination.

“The best scenario would be that this becomes old news after a while and that the White House eventually changes the subject,” said Frank Donatelli, former White House political director in the Reagan administration.

But the Democratic National Committee quickly pounced on yesterday’s indictment, linking it to the war in Iraq and to what they said was Mr. Bush’s “failure to put forth a clear plan for victory in Iraq.”

After releasing a statement that called on Mr. Bush to answer questions raised by the Fitzgerald investigation, DNC Chairman Howard Dean put out a separate broadside charging that “a group of senior White House officials not only orchestrated efforts to smear a critic of the war, but worked to cover up this smear campaign.”

“I. Lewis Libby was a part of this internal White House group,” Mr. Dean said, adding that “this is not only an abuse of power, it is an un-American abuse of the public trust.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the case was “about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president.”

Republicans, including Mr. Bush, praised Mr. Libby’s efforts on behalf of the country and said observers should withhold judgment until the case is resolved in court.

“Mr. Libby has served his country for a long time and deserves his day in court. The burden lies on Mr. Fitzgerald to prove his case, not on Mr. Libby to prove his innocence,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

Republican advisers yesterday said they were confident that in the end Mr. Bush will have the stronger political hand to play.

“Even if you concede that the Republicans and the president have had a tough time lately, we have plenty of opportunity to be on the right track,” Republican adviser Terry Holt said.

“The Democrats have failed to articulate a vision, an alternative how they would do better on any issue, hoping that scandal will fog the battlefield enough that they can make gains. Good luck,” he said. “In the end, the American people expect results. If the president and Republicans offer results, then the political fallout today isn’t going to matter much.”

Whether Mr. Libby’s indictment and eventual trial will have enough political traction to damage Mr. Bush’s presidency was not clear yesterday. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll this week reported that nearly four in 10 Americans think that aides to the president broke the law in the CIA case, while four in 10 said they acted unethically but not illegally.

Until yesterday’s indictment, however, independent pollster John Zogby said that although most people were paying attention to Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation, “my sense is up to now there has been no net gain or net loss for the president.”

Mr. Holt said: “Whatever political fallout there is today, it is important to keep in mind that we are more than a year away from the next elections and keep in mind that political fallout only matters on Election Day.”

This article is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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