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

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CBS News | Anxious D.C. Awaits Leak Charges | October 26, 2005�16:00:06

(CBS/AP) The federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity met for three hours Wednesday with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and his deputies, adjourning for the day without announcing any action.

But CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts reports the prosecutor has informed targets of the investigation of his intentions – and that can only mean indictments are coming.

Fitzgerald is known to be putting the finishing touches on a two-year criminal probe that has ensnared President Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby.

Away from the federal courthouse, FBI agents conducted a handful of last-minute interviews to check facts key to the case.

After the jurors left for the day, federal prosecutors conferred for about an hour in the grand jury area of the federal courthouse.

There was no word on whether Fitzgerald planned to make any announcement or when the grand jury planned to meet again.

Fitzgerald and the grand jurors entered the courthouse around 9 a.m. EDT, with just three days left before the jury's term is set to expire. The timing on any decision is uncertain, however. It is possible for Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan to extend the life of the grand jury at Fitzgerald's request. Such a step would be taken in secret.

Lawyers representing key White House officials expected Fitzgerald to decide this week whether to charge Libby and Rove.

Both Rove and Libby, who is hobbling around on crutches because of a broken bone in his foot, joined other officials at the daily White House senior staff meeting, as usual.

Fitzgerald could charge one or more administration aides with violating a law prohibiting the intentional unmasking of an undercover CIA officer.

In recent weeks the prosecutor has also examined other charges such as mishandling classified information, false statements and obstruction of justice.

The White House insisted Wednesday it was going about its business despite the threat of indictments hanging over senior officials.

"Everybody's focused on the priorities of the American people," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "We're focused on the work at hand. We're certainly following developments in the news but everybody's got a lot of work to do."

Former presidential adviser David Gergen told CBS News that "Washington is on a knife-edge today over the possibility of indictments." He said the possible charges raise major issues for the administration.

"It's not that the abuse of power here is anything like Watergate or Iran-Contra even," said Gergen, now the director of Harvard's Center For Public Leadership. "Rather it is, if indictments come, they may be of the people closest to the president and vice president of the United States. And they will re-open the wounds of Iraq, and people will ask the question, if indictments come, were we led into Iraq by criminal means?"

Fitzgerald has been in Washington since Monday and over the last two days dispatched FBI agents to conduct some 11th-hour interviews, according to lawyers close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
One set of interviews occurred in the neighborhood of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was outed as an undercover CIA officer. Agents asked neighbors whether they had any inkling that Plame works for the CIA.

"They wanted to know how well we knew her, which is very well," said neighbor David Tillotson. "Did we know anything about her position before the story broke? Absolutely not."

Agents also interviewed a former unidentified associate of Rove's about his activities around the time the leaks occurred.

Two lawyers familiar with the activities said the interviews involved basic fact-checking and did not appear to plow new ground.

Fitzgerald may want to establish Plame had carefully protected her CIA identity as part of the process of determining whether the disclosure of her name to the news media hurt national interests.

Adding to the administration's discomfort, Vice President Dick Cheney is now alleged to be a player in this case, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

According to some who have testified, Libby told the grand jury that he first learned Plame's name from reporters. But it was the vice president, according to a New York Times report, who mentioned Plame's CIA connection to Libby on June 12, 2003, a month before her name became public.

The name of Rove, the president's most powerful adviser, is also in the mix of top officials who may be slapped by the grand jury. The Los Angeles Times reports that prosecutors questioned a former West Wing colleague of Rove's about contacts he had with reporters leading up to the leak.

If such officials as Rove or Libby are named by the grand jury, President Bush will need to get replacements quickly, GOP strategist Ed Rollins (video) said on The Early Show.

"Historically there have been a lot of turnovers in the White House. This one hasn't had many," Rollins said.

Columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's name on July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson said publicly that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The timing of Wilson's criticism was devastating for the Bush White House, which was struggling to come to grips with the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.

President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was the administration's main argument for going to war.


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