WASHINGTON – The White House was lining up replacements for two top aides Thursday in case they are indicted in the CIA leak investigation, sources said.

The term for the grand jury probing the unmasking of CIA spy Valerie Plame expires Friday, setting the stage for a decision in the two-year investigation.

The White House was on edge as President Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, awaited word whether they will be indicted for leaking Plame’s name to reporters.

A source familiar with Bush’s worst-case plans said he would likely tap former GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie to replace Rove if he is indicted.

Also under consideration is bringing back former White House political director Ken Mehlman. He is the GOP chairman and is considered to be valuable to the Republicans for the upcoming midterm congressional elections.

If Libby is indicted, Cheney counsel David Addington will replace him as chief of staff, sources close to the Cheney’s office say. Addington is another longtime Cheney aide who worked for him at the Pentagon.

“I wouldn’t want to be Karl Rove, but I’m not sure if they have him,” said a source familiar with the probe. “Libby is a different story. It looks bad for Scooter.”

Even Cheney’s role has come under greater scrutiny, but it was Rove who was making a final push to persuade special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he didn’t break the law.

Rove attorney Robert Luskin prompted Fitzgerald to question former Bush aide Adam Levine this week to try to show Rove had not been shopping Plame’s name to reporters.

Unless Fitzgerald makes a request to extend the grand jury, the panel will end its inquiry Friday. He could also empanel a new grand jury.

The grand jury can adjourn without taking any action, or it can hand up indictments if it finds probable cause that crimes were committed. Fitzgerald has been pursuing charges ranging from knowingly exposing a covert agent and leaking classified information to conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice.

Bush and Cheney were questioned in the probe, and more than two dozen administration officials appeared before the grand jury or were interviewed under oath by investigators, according to The Hotline, a leading monitor of news media.



(New York Daily News correspondent James Gordon Meek contributed to this report.)



(c) 2005, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-10-27-05 2303EDT


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