News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Buffalo News - Probe in CIA leak shifts to question of perjury


WASHINGTON - The special prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation has shifted his focus from whether White House officials violated a law against exposing undercover agents to determining whether evidence exists to bring perjury or obstruction of justice charges, according to people briefed in recent days on the inquiry's status.
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, and his team have made no decision on whether to seek indictments, and there could be benign explanations for differences that have arisen in witnesses' statements to federal agents and a grand jury about how the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent who had worked undercover, was leaked to the media two years ago.

The investigation focused initially on whether Bush administration officials illegally leaked the identity of Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, in a campaign to discredit Wilson after he wrote an op-ed article in the New York Times criticizing the administration's rationale for going to war in Iraq.

According to lawyers familiar with the case, investigators are comparing statements to federal authorities by two top White House aides, Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby, with testimony from reporters who have acknowledged talking to the two officials.

The sources also said prosecutors are comparing Rove's various statements to the FBI and the grand jury.

Rove, who is a White House deputy chief of staff and President Bush's chief political strategist, in his first interview with the FBI did not mention a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in July 2003, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Rove has been interviewed twice by the FBI and made three appearances before the grand jury, they said.

While no one has suggested that the investigation into who leaked Plame's name has been shelved, the intensity of the inquiry into possible perjury charges has increased, according to one lawyer familiar with events, who spoke on condition that he not be identified because he did not want to anger Fitzgerald.

The investigation's change in emphasis comes amid indications that Fitzgerald's inquiry has gone well beyond scrutinizing the actions of top White House officials, such as Rove and Libby, who is chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, to searching for the potential source of the leak in other parts of the White House and other executive branch agencies.

A former senior State Department official acknowledged that he testified before the grand jury in Washington, D.C., and a congressional source confirmed that Robert Joseph, who was a senior expert on weapons of mass destruction on the White House National Security Council, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he had been questioned by the special prosecutor.

Karen Hughes, a former top aide to Bush, also told the committee that she had been questioned, the source said.

In addition, a senior U.S. official said that several State Department officials, including then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, were questioned several months ago about the creation and distribution of a classified memo that mentioned Plame. Prosecutors are interested in the memo because it might have been a vehicle for spreading Plame's name.

Disclosing the name of a CIA undercover agent is a crime in some circumstances.

Plame first was identified as a CIA operative by Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist, in a July 14, 2003, article, eight days after Wilson's op-ed piece challenged administration claims that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium for its nuclear program from the African nation of Niger.

An official close to the investigation said Fitzgerald is concentrating on what happened in the White House and other parts of the administration in those eight days.

Rove and Libby spoke with reporters during the crucial eight-day period.

Rove has said that he first learned Plame's name from Novak, according to Rove's attorney Robert Luskin. Novak has refused to discuss his testimony, but investigators are believed to be focusing on possible variations with Novak's account.

Writing in Time magazine, Cooper said that he had telephoned Rove to ask about Wilson's column and that Rove disclosed that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

But Cooper said that he did not learn her name until he read it in Novak's column several days later or that he might have learned it from a computer search.

But Rove, according to lawyers involved in the case, told the grand jury that Cooper had telephoned him about a welfare issue and that Wilson came up later.

Libby, according to a person familiar with events, told investigators that he learned Plame's name from a reporter, apparently Tim Russert of NBC.

But Russert, who last summer spoke with Fitzgerald after Libby released him from a pledge of confidentiality, said he did not give Plame's name to Libby, according to a statement issued by NBC at the time.


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