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Knocking on Cheney's door

KNOCK, KNOCK, who's there?

Dick Cheney.

If you are President George W. Bush, you do not want to open that door. On the other side stands the vice president, who outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to his chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby.

On Friday, Libby was indicted on criminal charges, including obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury in the CIA leak investigation. Basically, Libby is accused of lying about how and when he learned that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. According to the indictment, one of his sources was Cheney. The indictment specifically states that Libby ''was advised by the vice president of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency" and that ''the vice president had learned this information from the CIA."

Bush senior adviser Karl Rove was not indicted, but remains under investigation.

Given the build-up over the last week, Scooter without Rove at first feels like Bonnie without Clyde. Rove's escape for the moment means the CIA leak investigation does not -- yet -- directly involve Bush.

But it's getting closer. Here's the timeline closing in on the president:

In February 2002, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, went to Africa to investigate allegations that Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq for use in nuclear weapons.

On Jan. 28, 2003, in his State of the Union Address, Bush said: ''The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In a July 6 New York Times op-ed piece, Wilson wrote that he could not verify that Niger sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq.

According to the indictment, Cheney passed Valerie Plame Wilson's name to Libby ''on or about June 12, 2003."

On July 14, 2003, Wilson's wife was first identified in the press as a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction. The sources were ''two senior administration officials."

During a Friday press conference, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did his best to cut through the complexity:

Valerie Wilson's cover ''was blown," said Fitzgerald, and Libby blew it and lied about it.

''This is a very serious matter," said Fitzgerald. ''Compromising national security is very serious."

No one was charged with the specific crime of leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent, because Fitzgerald apparently determined that he could not prove at this time whether it was done through ''inadvertence, recklessness, or maliciousness." That determination may change.

Think of the indictment as a skeleton. Put flesh on it, and here is what you get:

The Bush administration took this country to war on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When Joseph Wilson undercut the premise, the Bush administration went to war to discredit him. Part of the effort involved getting the word out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and she was the only reason Wilson was chosen to check out the Iraq/yellowcake connection. In other words, Wilson did not have the stature or expertise to investigate WMD, and his conclusions were therefore irrelevant.

Right now, the price of gas and the rising toll of US military deaths in Iraq may seem more troublesome to the average citizen. But oil and Iraq are really what Plamegate is all about, as well as the lack of honesty at the highest level of government, and the willingness to do what it takes to silence a critic.

With Cheney in it, Plamegate gets a plotline that is easier to understand.

It's no wonder Cheney issued this statement regarding Libby, who resigned on Friday: ''Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known. He has given many years of life to public service and has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction."

The vice president needs Libby now much more than Libby needs him.

Facing jail and disgrace, what will Libby give up about Cheney's passing on of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a CIA official? Will the information make it easier for Fitzgerald to determine whether the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson was done through ''inadvertence, recklessness or maliciousness." And what will Libby say about Rove?

Knock, knock. Who's there?

This door may yet open right into the Oval Office.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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