A federal judge on Thursday refused to throw out the criminal charges against former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby stemming from an investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton rejected Libby’s argument that the appointment of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to lead the probe violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
The Justice Department’s delegation of authority to Fitzgerald not only was lawful, but also was needed to create the perception of fairness, Walton said in his opinion.
“The integrity of the rule of law ... is challenged to the greatest degree when high-level government officials come under suspicion for violating the law,” Walton wrote. “And a criminal investigation of any individual, prominent or not, for suspected violations of law must be above reproach to preserve respect for the fairness our system of justice.”
Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was charged with perjury, lying and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is scheduled to begin in January.
In December 2003, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the investigation and then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey selected Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to investigate who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Plame’s name was disclosed to the news media after her diplomat-husband accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear weapons to justify the 2003 invasion.
The judge rejected the argument by Libby’s lawyers that Fitzgerald has unlimited authority and that his appointment required his nomination by President George W Bush and approval by the Senate.