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

Saturday, July 16, 2005

'Indispensable': Does It Have a Shelf Life?

By ANNE E. KORNBLUT/New York Times

WASHINGTON — When revelations surfaced last week that Karl Rove had secretly talked to reporters about a C.I.A. operative, some critics demanded the senior adviser be swiftly swept from the corridors of power.

But Mr. Rove is not just any staff member. He is, by most accounts, the definition of an indispensable aide - at once "the architect" of Republican gains, as Mr. Bush dubbed him after the 2004 elections, as well as a nexus of politics and policy within the West Wing, his office constantly abuzz with communications from Congress, grassroots groups, other branches of the administration and Republican operatives nationwide.

As the drama of the C.I.A. leak continued to unfold last week with news that, despite claims to the contrary two years ago, Mr. Rove in fact had talked to reporters about the case - strategists marveled at the apparent strength of his footing despite the controversy engulfing the White House. In fact, history suggests it would take far more than the taint of impropriety for anyone so central to be cut loose.

Only a few presidential confidants as indispensable as Mr. Rove have ever been thrown overboard, and then reluctantly. Sherman Adams, the chief of staff to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, left the White House in a cloud of scandal in 1958 after accepting a vicuna fur coat from a business friend who had interests at the White House.

Bert Lance, a close adviser of President Jimmy Carter and director of the Office of Management and Budget, was forced out in 1977 because of charges he had mismanaged the bank he ran before the election.

So far, there is no proof that Mr. Rove committed any wrongdoing, let alone anything illegal: while he spoke to two journalists about Valerie Wilson, a C.I.A. operative whose husband went to Niger on a fact-finding mission about weapons of mass destruction, the accounts so far suggest Mr. Rove merely confirmed what the journalists already knew. The original source of Ms. Wilson's identity has not been made public, and Mr. Rove's lawyer says he is not a target of the special prosecutor's inquiry.

Politically, furthermore, many Republicans do not believe Mr. Rove has yet become seriously damaged goods - and that the bar for him, while not so impossibly high, is higher than it would be even for advisers with as direct a line to the president as Mr. Adams or Mr. Lance.

"How many people have been in a position like Karl's?" said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative magazine. The standard of proof, he said, is much higher than it would be for the average staffer, who could be dismissed just for bringing negative publicity to the administration.

Yet, is there a tipping point, where the presence of Mr. Rove would simply not be worth the unwanted attention that goes with it?

Democrats gleefully embraced a poll released Wednesday showing a drop in the public's faith in Mr. Bush as evidence Mr. Rove's troubles were taking a toll. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 45 percent of those surveyed gave Mr. Bush low points for his personal integrity, compared with 41 percent who had confidence in it - a sharp reversal for a president whose character has been the backbone of his presidency.

One former Republican official who retains close ties to the White House said there could be a political cost for keeping Mr. Rove on board even if he is found to have done nothing illegal. "If Karl survives, he does so at the president's political expense," said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as disloyal to Mr. Rove.

"George W. Bush came into office promising two tenets that are in competition now: straight talk, non-parsing - and loyalty," the former official said. "He's either got to choose loyalty or straight talk. He can't do both."

But there are few historical models for the ousting of a figure like Mr. Rove. There is the save-the-sinking ship model. When the Nixon administration began to unravel, because of Watergate, three of Richard Nixon's most trusted aides - H.R. Haldeman, the chief of staff; Richard Kleindienst, the attorney general; and John Ehrlichman, the domestic policy adviser - had to go, in order to try to save the president himself. No presidency before or since has seen such upheaval at its highest echelons.

There is the morally unacceptable model. Walter Jenkins was President Lyndon Johnson's close friend and adviser for 25 years, when he was charged with having sex with a man in bathroom at a Y.M.C.A. one block from the White House. The timing could not have been worse, the middle of the 1964 presidential campaign. President Johnson was forced to ask for his resignation.

And there is the "we never liked him" model. When John H. Sununu, the chief of staff during the George H. W. Bush administration, was let go, it was after a consensus reached by a number of powerful other advisers - including the president's son. The official firing offense was Mr. Sununu's ostentatious use of government airplanes for private travel. But it was grounded in years of hostility between Mr. Sununu and other Republicans of the sort that Mr. Rove has not created.

None of these models applies to Karl Rove. In fact, it is difficult to imagine intervention by other political power brokers without the consent of Mr. Rove himself.

As speculation about Mr. Rove's fate stirred last week, several Republicans suggested that it would take nothing less than personal outrage from Mr. Bush, backed up by his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., or perhaps a forceful stand by Vice President Cheney, to launch a discussion within the Bush administration of firing Mr. Rove.

And outsiders urging his ouster could well work in Mr. Rove's favor. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's head was demanded by liberals after the Iraq war did not go as well as he estimated, the administration seemed to take pleasure in keeping him on.

"The Bush operating style is, you be loyal to me, I'll be loyal back to you - and I'm not going to let my critics think they can prompt a lot of resignations just by pointing out that we said we'd fire them," said Professor Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

But, Mr. Walt said: "With Bush now being a lame duck, you start to wonder whether or not he'll have the same clout. At what point does the R.N.C. start weighing in and saying, 'Gee, we know he can't run again. But do we want to be saddled with a scandal that will make it harder for us to win in 2008?' "

Criminal Contempt Could Lengthen Reporter's Jail Stay

By Howard Kurtz and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 16, 2005; A06

Lawyers in the CIA leaks investigation are concerned that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald may seek criminal contempt charges against New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a rare move that could significantly lengthen her time in jail.

Miller, now in her 10th day in the Alexandria jail, already faces as much as four months of incarceration for civil contempt after refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about confidential conversations she had in reporting a story in the summer of 2003. Fitzgerald and Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan have both raised the possibility in open court that Miller could be charged with criminal contempt if she continues to defy Hogan's order to cooperate in the investigation of who may have unlawfully leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media.

The unusual threat in the case underscores the sensitivity of an investigation that has reached the highest levels of the White House and the prosecutor's determination to extract information from reluctant journalists even though he has yet to charge anyone with a crime. What secrets Miller can unlock for Fitzgerald -- and the reasons he has so doggedly pursued her -- have been a subject of considerable mystery.

While media coverage in recent days has focused on conversations White House senior adviser Karl Rove had with reporters, two sources say Miller spoke with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, during the key period in July 2003 that is the focus of Fitzgerald's investigation.

The two sources, one who is familiar with Libby's version of events and the other with Miller's, said the previously undisclosed conversation occurred a few days before Plame's name appeared in Robert D. Novak's syndicated column on July 14, 2003. Miller and Libby discussed former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame's husband, who had recently alleged that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the source familiar with Libby's version.

But, according to the source, the subject of Wilson's wife did not come up.

Miller and the Times have said the reporter has chosen jail to keep promises she made to protect the identity of confidential sources. But Libby's attorney, Joseph A. Tate, has told the New York Times that he provided reporters with assurances that they could rely on the waivers releasing them to talk to Fitzgerald. Tate did not return phone calls placed for this story on Thursday and Friday.

Hogan has publicly chided Miller for "alleging" that she was protecting the identity of a source who Hogan said had freed her to speak about their conversations.

Miller has said she was reporting on Wilson's criticism of administration claims that Iraq was seeking uranium for weapons of mass destruction, but did not write a story.

One of Miller's attorneys, veteran First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, yesterday declined to confirm the meeting with Libby or to discuss any waivers his client may have received.

"Judy's view is that any purported waiver she got from anyone was not on the face of it sufficiently broad, clear and uncoerced," Abrams said.

Four other reporters, including two from The Washington Post, have answered some of the prosecutors' questions after receiving specific waivers from their sources, including Libby.

Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter also subpoenaed in the case, avoided Miller's fate July 6 by agreeing to testify about his conversations with Rove. But three days earlier, Cooper's attorney, Richard Sauber, said in an interview yesterday, Fitzgerald told him during negotiations over Cooper's testimony that his client could well face criminal contempt charges.

Fitzgerald was playing "hardball" and "was trying to get Matt and Judy to comply with the judge's order," Sauber said, adding that he did not consider the threat "over the top."

"Fitzgerald indicated personally to me that was one of his options," Sauber said of their July 3 conversation. He quoted Fitzgerald as telling him: "I'm going to ask the judge to remind these people they risk criminal contempt and it is certainly an option for me." Sauber said he is "convinced" that Fitzgerald "still might" file criminal charges against Miller.

Abrams said he remains concerned about the same possibility but hopes it will not come to pass. "Any resort to criminal law would constitute a sad, even tragic, escalation of this controversy," he said.

Sometimes the threat of criminal contempt can be a prosecutor's strongest tool to obtain information. If Fitzgerald seeks a criminal contempt finding, the judge could order Miller held for as much as six more months and impose other penalties. Criminal contempt findings are very rare, legal experts said, because prosecutors usually seek them only in extreme circumstances or when a person engages in a pattern of defying the law.

Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Sanborn yesterday declined to comment on Fitzgerald's intentions.

Sauber said the tactic was not unexpected in light of a recent case involving Rhode Island television reporter Jim Taricani, who was convicted in December of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal the name of the person who gave him an FBI videotape in a corruption investigation.

But in this closely held investigation, federal appeals court judges of very different ideological stripes and Hogan have reviewed secret evidence and have agreed that Miller's and Cooper's claims of a right to protect their sources is outweighed by the public interest in investigating a possible breach of national security.

Legal experts who have monitored the public twists of Fitzgerald's investigation say the prosecutor has been relentless in running down every fact, an approach that may increase the chances he would seek criminal contempt.

"I think Judith Miller is in much graver danger than she might be otherwise, because this prosecutor seems to want to pursue every avenue with a vengeance," said Mary Cheh, a professor of criminal law at George Washington University. "I'd be very worried."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Memo Is a Focus of CIA Leak Probe

By Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 16, 2005; A06

Federal prosecutors investigating the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity have asked several witnesses in the case whether they read a State Department memorandum mentioning her that circulated inside the Bush administration in the days before she was publicly named, according to people familiar with the testimony.

FBI agents showed the State Department memo to several witnesses during the interviews over the past two years, according to lawyers in the case, in an effort to determine whether it was the source of information about Plame's role at the CIA. A key mystery in the leak case is how senior administration officials first learned of Plame's identity and her relationship to a key critic of President Bush's Iraq policy, before her name appeared in news reports.

Lawyers familiar with the testimony of White House senior adviser Karl Rove said he has admitted discussing Plame, though not by name, but said he learned of her role from a reporter. Several legal sources said the prosecution has shown strong interest in the State Department memo, which circulated on Air Force One during the Africa trip -- just days before Plame's name was made public in a column by Robert D. Novak.

Prosecutors are investigating whether administration officials leaked Plame's name to retaliate against her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, an ex-diplomat who had accused Bush of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war. Wilson, on a mission authorized by the CIA, went to Niger to investigate whether Iraq was seeking uranium for nuclear bombs. He reported that there was no evidence to support that suspicion.

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was on the Africa trip with Bush, carried with him a memo containing information on Plame, as well as other intelligence about allegations made by Wilson.

According to people involved in the case, prosecutors believe that a printout of memo was in the front of Air Force One during a July 7-12 trip Bush took to Africa, but investigators are unsure who reviewed or obtained copies of it. One of the earliest moves by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, signaling his aggressive stance, was to get the grand jury to subpoena Air Force One phone logs from the trip, the sources said. Newsweek reported in August 2004 that Powell's testimony before the grand jury focused, in part, on the memo.

The memo "identifies her as having selected or recommended her husband" for the Niger assignment, according to a person who has seen it. Administration officials circulated this information as a way of discrediting the reliability of Wilson's charges.

Lawyers involved in the probe said prosecutors are interested in whether anyone called back to Washington to talk about information in the memo. Prosecutors have asked numerous questions about then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was on the trip and aboard Air Force One, according to the lawyers. Fleischer has declined to comment.

Rove said of the memo that he "had never seen it, had never heard about it and had never heard anybody else talk about it," according to a lawyer familiar with his testimony. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said he can say "categorically" that Rove did not obtain any information about Plame from any confidential source, such as a classified document.

The memo was first reported by the New York Times, but several sources had described its content to The Washington Post in interviews this week.

State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer

This article was reported by Douglas Jehl, David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson and was written by Mr. Stevenson.

WASHINGTON, July 15 - Prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a C.I.A. officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said.

Investigators in the case have been trying to learn whether officials at the White House and elsewhere in the administration learned of the C.I.A. officer's identity from the memorandum. They are seeking to determine if any officials then passed the name along to journalists and if officials were truthful in testifying about whether they had read the memo, the people who have been briefed said, asking not to be named because the special prosecutor heading the investigation had requested that no one discuss the case.

The memorandum was sent to Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, just before or as he traveled with President Bush and other senior officials to Africa starting on July 7, 2003, when the White House was scrambling to defend itself from a blast of criticism a few days earlier from the former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, current and former government officials said.

Mr. Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memorandum in hand, said a person involved in the case who also requested anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about talking about the investigation.

Investigators are also trying to determine whether the gist of the information in the document, including the name of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, Mr. Wilson's wife, had been provided to the White House even earlier, said another person who has been involved in the case. Investigators have been looking at whether the State Department provided the information to the White House before July 6, 2003, when Mr. Wilson publicly criticized the way the administration used intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, the person said.

The prosecutors have shown the memorandum to witnesses at the grand jury investigating how the C.I.A. officer's name was disclosed to journalists, blowing her cover as a covert operative and possibly violating federal law, people briefed on the case said. The prosecutors appear to be investigating how widely the document circulated within the administration, and whether it might have been the original source of information for whoever provided the identity of Ms. Wilson to Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who first disclosed it in print.

On Thursday, a person who has been officially briefed on the matter said that Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, had spoken about Ms. Wilson with Mr. Novak before Mr. Novak published a column on July 14, 2003, identifying the C.I.A. officer by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Rove, the person said, told Mr. Novak he had heard much the same information, making him one of two sources Mr. Novak cited for his information.

But the person said Mr. Rove first heard from Mr. Novak the name of Mr. Wilson's wife and her precise role in the C.I.A.'s decision to send her husband to Africa to investigate a report, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear material there.

It is not clear who Mr. Novak's original source was, or whether Mr. Novak has revealed the source's identity to the grand jury.

Mr. Rove also held a conversation about Mr. Wilson's mission to Africa with Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, on July 11, 2003, two days after he discussed the case with Mr. Novak. In an e-mail message to his bureau chief provided to the grand jury by Time Inc., Mr. Cooper said Mr. Rove had alluded to Mr. Wilson's wife as a C.I.A. employee, though, in Mr. Cooper's account, Mr. Rove did not use her name or mention her status as a covert operative.

After his conversation with Mr. Cooper, The Associated Press reported Friday, Mr. Rove sent an e-mail message to Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, saying he "didn't take the bait" when Mr. Cooper suggested that Mr. Wilson's criticisms had been damaging to the administration.

Mr. Rove told the grand jury in the case that the e-mail message was consistent with his assertion that he had not intended to divulge Ms. Wilson's identity but instead intended to rebut Mr. Wilson's criticisms of the administration's use of intelligence about Iraq, The A.P. reported, citing legal professionals familiar with Mr. Rove's testimony. Dozens of White House and administration officials have testified to the grand jury, and several officials have been called back for further questioning.

The special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has sought to determine how much Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman at the time of the leak, knew about the memorandum. Lawyers involved in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions about Mr. Fleischer's role. Mr. Fleischer was with Mr. Bush and much of the senior White House staff in Africa when Mr. Powell, who was also with them, received the memorandum. A spokeswoman for Mr. Powell said he was out of the country and could not comment on the document. Mr. Fleischer said in an e-mail message this week that he would not comment on the case.

Mr. Fitzgerald has also looked into any role that I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, may have played. Lawyers in the case have said their clients have been asked about Mr. Libby's conversations in the days after Mr. Wilson's article - in part based on Mr. Libby's hand-written notes, which he turned over to the prosecutor.

In addition, several journalists have been asked about their conversations with Mr. Libby. At least one, Tim Russert of NBC News, has suggested that prosecutors wanted to know whether he had told Mr. Libby of Ms. Wilson's identity. After Mr. Russert met with Mr. Fitzgerald, NBC said that he did not provide the information to Mr. Libby.

The existence of the State Department memorandum has been previously reported by news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and The Daily News. But new details of how it came about and how it circulated within the administration could offer clues into who knew what and when.

The memorandum was dated June 10, 2003, nearly four weeks before Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in which he recounted his mission and accused the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq. The memorandum was written for Marc Grossman, then the under secretary of state for political affairs, and it referred explicitly to Valerie Wilson as Mr. Wilson's wife, according to a government official who reread the document on Friday.

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

It is not clear who asked for the memorandum, but in the weeks before it was written, there were several accounts in newspapers about an unnamed former diplomat's trip to Africa seeking intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program. On May 6, 2003, Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The Times, wrote of a "former U.S. ambassador to Africa" who had reported to the C.I.A. and the State Department that reports of Iraq seeking to acquire uranium in Niger were "unequivocally wrong."

The memorandum was prepared at the State Department, relying on notes by an analyst who was involved in meetings in early 2002 to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq was pursuing uranium purchases. The C.I.A. was asked by Mr. Cheney's office and the State and Defense Departments to look into the reports.

According to a July 9, 2004, Senate Intelligence Committee report, the notes described a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at C.I.A. headquarters on whether Mr. Wilson should go to Niger.

The notes, which did not identify Ms. Wilson or her husband by name, said the meeting was "apparently convened by" the wife of a former ambassador "who had the idea to dispatch" him to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Mr. Wilson had been ambassador to Gabon.

The Intelligence Committee report said the former ambassador's wife had a different account of her role, saying she introduced him and left after about three minutes.

The information in the State Department memorandum generally tracked the information Mr. Novak laid out for Mr. Rove in their conversation, according to the account of their exchange provided by the person briefed on what Mr. Rove has told investigators.

But it appears to differ in at least one way, raising questions about whether it was the original source of the material that ultimately made its way to Mr. Novak. In his July 14, 2003, column, Mr. Novak referred to Ms. Wilson as Valerie Plame. The State Department memorandum referred to her as Valerie Wilson, according to the government official who reread it on Friday.

David E. Sanger and Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.