Not guilty, Your Honour

Lewis "Scooter" Libby’s court appearance took less than 10 minutes. Leaning on crutches before a judge, the first serving White House official to be indicted in 130 years pleaded not guilty to five counts relating to the CIA leak affair.

Given the potential of his forthcoming trial to rock the Bush administration to its core and expose the way in which officials manipulated intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq, his appearance in the wood-panelled Washington courtroom was brief and uneventful.

Asked if he wished to enter a plea, he affirmed that he did and said: "With respect, your honour, I plead not guilty."

Standing just a few feet away, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald then told the court his team was working to declassify the "voluminous" amount of material on which it has based its charges. The essential elements of this information would be handed to the defence lawyers next, he said.

The defence team will have to receive special security clearance before they can receive all the material.

After the hearing Libby was fingerprinted and photographed. He then emerged with his team of four lawyers, one of whom, Ted Wells, a prominent criminal defence lawyer, said: "In pleading not guilty he has declared to the world that he is innocent. He has declared that he intends to fight the charges in the indictment, and he has declared that he wants to clear his good name, and he wants a jury trial."

Judge Reggie Walton yesterday adjourned the case until February 3 next year.

Libby, accompanied in court yesterday by his wife, is the first serving White House official to be indicted since Orville E. Babcock, private secretary to Ulysses S. Grant, was indicted in 1875 for illegally diverting taxes from distillers. Babcock was convicted but later pardoned by the President.

- Independent

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