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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Grand Jurors Hear Counsel on Leak Case - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 - The special counsel in the C.I.A. leak inquiry met for more than three hours with the federal grand jury on Wednesday and later talked privately with the district judge in the case as the White House waited out another day in the expectation of possible indictments.

After the grand jury session, the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, discussed the case for about 45 minutes in the chambers of Judge Thomas F. Hogan, the chief judge of the district court who has presided over the leak case, said the judge's administrative assistant, Sheldon L. Snook.

The grand jury deliberations and the special prosecutor's meeting with the judge ratcheted up fears among officials that Mr. Fitzgerald might have obtained an indictment from the grand jury, and was requesting that it be sealed. He could also seek an extension of the grand jury's term, which expires on Friday. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald, would not comment on the case.

Mr. Fitzgerald, his deputies and the grand jurors arrived at the federal courthouse shortly after 9 a.m. The grand jurors were seen leaving around noon when Mr. Fitzgerald went to Judge Hogan's chambers.

Although lawyers in the case said that they expected that Mr. Fitzgerald would announce a decision on charges by Friday, his continuing deliberations chafed the already raw nerves at the White House and raised the possibility that he might need more time to complete his inquiry.

Mr. Fitzgerald has focused on Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr., who is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Both have been advised that they could be charged with wrongdoing, possibly for false statements to the grand jury about their conversations with reporters.

Other possibilities are obstruction of justice or perjury charges, and possible violations of the statute that makes it a crime to disclose the identity of a covert intelligence agent.

Some lawyers have suggested that Mr. Fitzgerald may also have investigated possible conspiracy charges or violations of an espionage law that makes it illegal to communicate classified information to people not authorized to receive it.

Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby came to work at the White House as usual on Wednesday morning. .Whether anyone else is at risk of criminal prosecution remains unknown. The C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, was identified in a July 14, 2003, column by Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist, and if a government official was Mr. Novak's main source, that official could be charged with violating a law making it illegal to divulge the identity of a covert officer like Ms. Wilson.

A series of interviews by F.B.I. agents on Monday revived the possibility that Mr. Fitzgerald might be considering such a charge. Several neighbors of Ms. Wilson and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, were asked whether they knew that Ms. Wilson, also known by her unmarried name, Valerie Plame, had covert status.

Several neighbors, some who have known her for years, said they did not know before Mr. Novak's column that she worked for the C.I.A.

"They said they were basically tying up loose ends," David Tillotson, a next-door neighbor for seven years, said of his interview by two agents. "They wanted to ask neighbors how well they knew the Wilsons and whether they knew what Valerie did."

Mr. Tillotson said he and his wife, Victoria, thought Ms. Wilson was a business consultant and had no idea she worked for the C.I.A.

In an apparent effort to draw attention away from the investigation - or at least to occupy himself as he and everyone else in the White House endured the torture of another day's wait - Mr. Bush kept to a busy schedule of meetings and appearances. He met with his ambassador to Iraq, gave a speech on the economy, sat down with the prime minister of Macedonia and invited Ghana's president in for a quick chat.

"We've got a lot of work to do, and so we don't have a lot of time to sit back and think about those things," Scott McClellan, Mr. Bush's press secretary, said when asked about the distraction of the investigation.

Republicans outside the administration said the White House had taken on a bunker mentality, ignoring or dismissing advice on how to deal with fallout from the case and get the administration back on track.

The uncertainty over Mr. Rove's fate in particular left many Republicans guessing at how the White House might proceed once Mr. Fitzgerald's decision became public.

Democrats for their part pressed ahead with their strategy of asserting that the leak case was part of a broader pattern of dishonesty by the administration that had led the nation into war on false pretenses.

In a speech at Georgetown University, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee last year, said attacks by the administration on the Wilsons were part of the White House's effort to justify the war even after the intelligence used to portray Saddam Hussein's weapons programs as a threat was proved wrong.

"We don't know yet whether this will prove to be an indictable offense in a court of law, but for it, and for misleading the nation into war, they will be indicted in the high court of history," Mr. Kerry said.

It was not publicly known what Mr. Fitzgerald discussed with the grand jurors. But at this point in the investigation, lawyers in the case said, he was almost certainly addressing them on the subject of indictments.

Federal grand juries, made up of 23 people, meet in secret. Former prosecutors said that the process of presenting possible charges to a grand jury followed a pattern in which grand jurors, without the prosecution team present, voted on whether to return an indictment. A simple majority is required for an indictment.

In some instances, a prosecutor may present the panel with a list of charges and ask for a vote. Or, a prosecutor may engage in sometimes lengthy and detailed discussions with grand jurors about evidence and witnesses and even take straw polls on charges in the case.

In cases like this one, in which central charges are believed to focus on whether false statements were made by witnesses in their grand jury testimony, a prosecutor may sound out the grand jurors on whether they feel they were deceived. If grand jurors seem to resist the assertion that they were misled, a prosecutor may take it as a sign that a jury might be similarly hard to convince.

Former colleagues said Mr. Fitzgerald in the past has displayed a patient and cordial manner that grand jurors appreciated. "He was professional and straightforward," said Joshua G. Berman, a former assistant United States attorney in New York who worked closely with him. "He was meticulous and methodical, and that made it very easy for grand jurors to follow what he was saying."

Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.


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