Mixed reactions at the White House

There was a mixed reaction at the White House Friday following the announcement of the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, on five counts, including false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury.

In one sense, officials feel they dodged a bullet because the president’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, was not charged. But he remains under investigation. And this indictment means the cloud of the leak investigation has not lifted.

President Bush emerged from the Oval Office late Friday to face the latest blow to his second term. He appeared determined to grimly mark the occasion, saying, “Scooter's worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country,” adding, “While we're all saddened by today's news, we remain wholly focused on the many issues and opportunities facing this country. I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House.”

For now, that includes Rove, who learned he would not be charged with a crime and, Friday morning, spoke to reporters outside his D.C. home, saying, “I'm gonna have a great Friday and a fantastic weekend — hope you do too.”

While Rove could still be charged, aides described a growing sense of confidence that, after a sharp focus on Rove's contacts with reporters and after four appearances before the grand jury, no indictment Friday was a strong sign he will emerge unscathed.

With Libby facing charges, however, Democrats pounced on the White House.

“What is most disappointing,” says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., “is that it took a special prosecutor to uncover these facts. The president should have taken care of this a long time ago.”

Criminal charges, a failed nomination to the Supreme Court and the grim milestone in Iraq, 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed in action, added up to perhaps the worst political week of the Bush presidency.

“It's possible to recover,” says former presidential adviser David Gergen, “but it's going to be hard. There are no obvious initiatives out there the president can take that will unite the country.”

White House aides did little to deny how shaken this week has left the president, with one top adviser saying, “All we can do now are the basics — block and tackle — and try to build back some momentum.”

The president will try to do that in the coming days by naming a new pick for the Supreme Court.