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

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Prosecutor Nears Decision in CIA Probe

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 13, 2005; 9:56 PM

WASHINGTON -- Two years after the White House assured the public it had not leaked a CIA officer's identity, a prosecutor is nearing a decision on whether to file criminal charges after assembling evidence that top presidential aides had numerous contacts with reporters in the matter.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has a variety of options as he weighs whether anyone broke a law that bars the intentional unmasking of a CIA officer. Defense lawyers increasingly are concerned Fitzgerald might pursue other charges such as false statements, obstruction of justice or mishandling classified information.

Before those decisions are made, presidential confidant Karl Rove will make a fourth grand jury appearance, as early as Friday. Rove did talk about CIA officer Valerie Plame with two of the reporters who published her identity and has been summoned by the prosecutor to answer additional questions.

Plame is the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. A former U.S. ambassador, Wilson attracted the White House's attention in 2003 for saying that the administration had manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Rove's appearance carries risks.

"Criminal defense lawyers cringe at a witness going back a fourth time," said Kirby Behre, a white-collar defense attorney. People in the spotlight "feel if they don't cooperate it could mean their job."

Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby, also is gaining additional scrutiny after New York Times reporter Judith Miller belatedly turned over notes showing the two had a third, previously undisclosed, conversation about Wilson.

That conversation occurred even before Wilson's public criticism of the administration's handling of intelligence.

The White House originally made strong denials two years ago that Rove and Libby never leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, and Bush pledged to fire anyone who did. As the evidence has emerged, the strategy has changed.

Bush now says he will fire someone only if the person committed a crime. Also, lawyers no longer contest that their clients discussed the identity of Wilson's wife with reporters. Instead, the lawyers are trying to make the case that exposing her covert status was inadvertent and not part of a conspiracy.

"Did Karl purposely set out to disclose Valerie Plame's identity in order to punish Joe Wilson for his criticism? The answer is, 'No,'" said Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin.

Whatever the outcome, Fitzgerald has burnished his reputation as a tough, hard-charging prosecutor. He got a judge to send Miller to prison for 85 days for refusing to testify and the prosecutor persuaded other reporters to cooperate.

It was Fitzgerald's letter to Libby's lawyer in September that helped resolve the impasse over Miller, resulting in her testimony.

A U.S. attorney with a Republican pedigree, Fitzgerald has a reputation for being willing to take on politicians of either political party in corruption probes. Currently, Fitzgerald's office is prosecuting a former Republican governor of Illinois.

For the White House in 2004, the good news about Fitzgerald's investigation was that it didn't become an issue in the presidential campaign, even though Bush and Cheney both were questioned.

Rove, a Texas political consultant who rose through the ranks of Republican politics with the late GOP adviser Lee Atwater, was the architect of Bush's successful re-election. Libby was at Cheney's side during the campaign.

"They are good individuals," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Rove and Libby on Oct. 7, 2003, when asked whether they had leaked the identity of Wilson's wife. "They are important members of our White House team. And that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.

© 2005 The Associated Press


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