WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff pleaded not guilty before a federal judge Thursday and waived his right to a speedy trial relating to the leak of a covert CIA operative's identity.
"With respect, your honor, I plead not guilty," I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (search) told U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, standing up with the help of crutches as he recovers from a foot injury.
Before departing from the court, Libby attorney Ted Wells said his client will be cleared of the charges.
"Mr. Libby has pled not guilty to each and every count in the indictment. In pleading not guilty, he has declared to the world he is innocent," Wells said. "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.
"We do not intend to try this case in the press. Mr. Libby intends to clear his good name by using the judicial process," he added.
Wells and three other attorneys arrived at the U.S. District Court around 10 a.m. EST. It was Libby's first public appearance since the indictment and resignation. He waived his reading of the charges.
Libby resigned from his post Friday almost immediately after being indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of false statements to FBI agents and two counts of perjury.
While Libby could have asked for the trial to start in the next few months, his attorneys said they needed time to prepare for what they anticipate will be a lengthy defense.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (search) agreed that with such a complex case — one that involves getting security clearances for Libby's attorneys since much of the evidence is classified — it could take a few weeks just to get the discovery process up and running smoothly.
Walton said he wants the case resolved as quickly as possible. The next court date is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2006, when it's likely a trial date could be set, unless a plea deal is reached before then.
Libby was booked, photographed and fingerprinted in normal procedure for an arraignment, and was released on his own recognizance. He will remain free pending his Feb. 3 appearance.
If found guilty, Libby faces a maximum 30 years in prison and $1.25 million fine, though it's unlikely with his record of public service that he would receive a maximum sentence.
Political allies are gearing up to raise money to help offset his legal expenses. FOX News confirmed that friends and colleagues plan to host some small fundraisers.
While Libby's fate hangs in the balance, it is possible that another Bush administration official could be indicted in the ongoing Fitzgerald investigation. Presidential adviser Karl Rove (search) has been one name on the list of possibilities on that front. Other administration officials, including Cheney, may be asked to testify in the case.
Making the Case
The 22-month criminal investigation by Fitzgerald is probing the leaking of the name and identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (search), a CIA operative and wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. Plame's name was first reported in a column by Robert Novak (search) in July 2003.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told FOX News on Thursday that he was disappointed about what he says the investigation has done to the country and thinks the investigation could lead higher up the chain of command.
“The question is now, what did the president tell Scooter Libby and did he order the leak of the CIA agent,” Dean said.
Dean added that Democrats want to clean up Washington's image in the public eye after an investigation he said resembles Watergate.
“I think the Republicans have brought a culture of corruption to Washington and we need to get rid of it and we will,” Dean said.
Edward MacMahon, a criminal defense attorney, told FOX News that the criminal case against Libby will be tough to make.
“It’s got to be very difficult for the government to prove this case,” MacMahon said. “They don’t have any documents that would show the specific conversations that he had with these three reporters.”
The charges that will have to be proved by the prosecution accuse Libby of not being forthcoming with the grand jury or FBI when he was interviewed about when he first learned the identity of Plame.
The indictment reports that Libby was told about Plame in June 2003 from Cheney, the State Department and the CIA. Libby later told others, including New York Times reporter Judith Miller (search) and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper (search). Libby told investigators and a federal grand jury that he found out about Plame's identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert.
Russert denies ever discussing Wilson or his wife with Libby.
Joseph Tate, an attorney for Libby, said people who remember different details about events leading up to the disclosure of Plame's name should not be charged with crimes.
Walton, the judge overseeing Libby's case, is an appointee of three Republican presidents, and is known among defense counsels as very tough on sentencing street criminals.
Early in his career, Walton was a highly respected trial lawyer for the U.S. attorney's office in the District of Columbia. When President Reagan appointed him to D.C. Superior Court, Walton became known as a no-nonsense judge. He served as the senior White House adviser for crime in the administration of President Bush's father before returning to Superior Court. In 2001, Bush nominated Walton to the U.S. District Court.
FOX News' Carl Cameron, Megyn Kendall and Melissa Drosjack and The Associated Press contributed to this report.