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

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Is immunity in offing as Congress looks at Plame case?

Cox News Service
Monday, August 01, 2005

WASHINGTON — As Congress tip-toes into the controversy over the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, some lawmakers and analysts worry that the criminal investigation of the matter could be undermined by any congressional grant of immunity from prosecution, as has happened in the past in politically charged investigations.

The cases of key Iran-contra figures Oliver North and John Poindexter underscore their worries: both were prosecuted and convicted by independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, but their convictions were overturned because Congress had granted them immunity in order to compel them to testify in the congressional investigation of the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages deals.

Walsh, in his final report on the White House brokering arms deals with Iranian terrorists to free American hostages and diverting arms sales profits to anti-government guerrillas in Nicaragua, complained that Congress had "infinitely complicated" his efforts to prosecute North and Poindexter or to force them to testify about the activities of higher-ups in the Reagan administration.

"Immunity is ordinarily given by a prosecutor to a witness who will incriminate someone more important than himself," Walsh wrote. "Congress gave immunity to North and Poindexter, who incriminated only themselves and who largely exculpated those responsible for the initiation, supervision and support of their activities."

Walsh concluded with a word of caution to future lawmakers: "Congress should be aware of the fact that future immunity grants, at least in such highly publicized cases, will likely rule out criminal prosecution."

Consequently, because recent disclosures that senior White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby were sources for Time magazine reports about Plame, some lawmakers and analysts are reprising the warnings of Walsh to the congressional intelligence committee chairmen as they plan hearings on the leak.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., for example, is drafting letters of caution to the chairmen, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan.

"The (congressional) hearings should not be used as a ruse to provide White House officials with immunity," Lautenberg said in a statement late Friday.

Roberts and Hoekstra could not be reached for comment, and their spokesmen at their committees did not respond immediately to requests for details about the upcoming hearings.

Tom Blanton, president of the National Security Archive and a leading expert on the Iran-contra scandal, noted some differences in the situation facing Roberts and Hoekstra and the one facing the co-chairs of the Iran-contra investigation, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and then-Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., most notably the timing of the criminal investigations.

Walsh was just getting his investigation started when Congress granted immunity to North and Poindexter, and Congress was anxious to discover the facts of the still unfolding events of the Iran-contra affair, Blanton noted.

On the other hand, Patrick Fitzgerald, the independent counsel appointed to investigate the leaking of Plame's name, has been at work for two years already "and, hopefully, has some idea of what happened and whether any crimes have been committed," he added.

Still, "you always have to be careful with granting immunity to witnesses," Blanton said.

Similarly, David Garrow, noted author and Emory University law professor, agreed that any prosecution arising from the special investigation could be undermined "if the Congress did immunize people." But he questioned whether the planners of the upcoming congressional hearings "are that Machiavellian."

After much prodding by former CIA officials and Democratic lawmakers, Roberts and Hoekstra said last week that their panels would hold hearings on issues raised by the public disclosure of Plame's identity, reportedly by the White House in political vendetta for her husband's critique of pre-war intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

It is unclear, however, when those hearings will be held and what exactly they will examine.

Hoekstra, in a mid-week speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said his hearings would focus on toughening federal laws barring the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

But he declined to comment on the extent to which his hearings would examine the leaking of Plame's name to reporters after her husband, ambassador Joseph Wilson, questioned some of the claims made by the White House about Iraq's nuclear capabilities prior to the war.

In addition, early last week, Roberts suggested to Time magazine and CNN that his committee would look into the leak of Plame's identity as part of an examination of how the CIA determines which officials at the agency get "covert" status. But by mid-week, Roberts was quoted by other news organizations as saying he would limit the hearings to the issue of "covert" status.

"It's silly that someone would assume that we should take the role of a special prosecutor," he told a home state newspaper, the Wichita Eagle.

But his spokeswoman, Sarah Little, said the Senate hearings would look into the two-year probe by Fitzgerald, her comments coming after editorial columns in the Wall Street Journal labeled Fitzgerald a "loose cannon" and an "unguided missile."

Scott Shepard's e-mail address is sshepard(at)


John Byrne

A former senior aide to Bush adviser Karl Rove who reportedly gave testimony to a grand jury investigating the leaking of a CIA agent's identity answered phones and took Rove's messages, RAW STORY has discovered.

According to a 2004 Salon piece, she also had a role with one of conservative Washington's leading men, Grover Norquist, in which she took messages for Rove and called Norquist to screen callers.

"For two years, the assistant who answered Rove's phone was a woman who had previously worked for lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close friend of Norquist's and a top DeLay fundraiser," Salon reported. "One Republican lobbyist, who asked not to be named because DeLay and Rove have the power to ruin his livelihood, said the way Rove's office worked was this: 'Susan took a message for Rove, and then called Grover to ask if she should put the caller through to Rove. If Grover didn't approve, your call didn't go through.'"

The Washington Monthly added, soon thereafter:

"Speaking of phones and doorkeepers, it's widely understood that to have real influence in Washington, one must be on good terms, not so much with Cabinet secretaries, as with White House secretaries--that is, the assistants who sit in the outer offices of the president's senior advisors. As with much else in this town, uber-lobbyist/anti-tax activist Grover Norquist seems to understand this rule as well as anybody. Norquist had a deal with Susan Ralston, who until recently was the assistant to Karl Rove. An unnamed Republican lobbyist recently told "Susan took a message for Rove, and then called Grover to ask if she should put the caller through to Rove. If Grover didn't approve, your call didn't go through."

How did Norquist attain such influence over Ralston? Flowers every Friday? Redskins tickets? The answer, actually, is what the White House ethics lawyers call a "preexisting relationship." Ralston had formerly worked for lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close friend of Norquist's and a top fundraiser for House majority whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Ralston has since left the pressure cooker White House job for possibly the most isolated island in Washington. She is now executive assistant to Eddy R. Badrina, the senior advisor of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders."

Buffalo News - Columnist defends actions in naming CIA officer

WASHINGTON - Columnist Robert Novak broke his silence Monday about his disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's identity, defending himself against a former agency official's account that he twice warned Novak not to publish the name.
In his syndicated column, Novak did not dispute that former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told him he should not print the covert officer's name, Valerie Plame, during conversations they had prior to Novak's July 14, 2003, column.

But Novak reasserted that no CIA official ever told him in advance "that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger her or anybody else."

Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was sent to Africa by the CIA in 2002 to evaluate intelligence that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear materials.

More than a year later, with the U.S. government unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times, "What I Didn't Find In Africa," and asked the question: "Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion?"

Eight days later, Novak wrote an article in which he disclosed Plame's name and cited as sources two unidentified senior Bush administration officials. Novak wrote that the officials had told him Plame had suggested sending her husband to Niger.

Wilson claims the leak was retribution for his article and criticism of the administration. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating whether government officials broke the law by disclosing Plame's name to Novak and other journalists.

Harlow was interviewed recently by the Washington Post and acknowledged telling the grand jury investigating the case that he spoke to Novak at least three days before the column appeared.

Harlow said he could not tell Novak that Plame was a covert officer because that information itself was classified. But in at least two telephone calls, Harlow told Novak that Plame had not authorized her husband's mission and that her name should not be used even if Novak went ahead with a story, according to the Post.

Harlow declined to comment when contacted by the Associated Press.

Novak, whose role in the investigation is unknown, has been silent on the series of events he set in motion. But he wrote about it Monday, saying he was ignoring his lawyers' advice because Harlow's account is "so patently incorrect and so abuses my integrity as a journalist."

Novak said Harlow's admonition not to disclose Plame's name "is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as "Valerie Plame' by reading her husband's entry in "Who's Who in America.' "

The columnist said Harlow was "just plain wrong" in saying he had deliberately disregarded Harlow's comment that Plame had not authorized her husband's trip.

"There never was any question of me talking about Mrs. Wilson "authorizing.' I was told she "suggested' the mission, and that is what I asked Harlow," he wrote.

In a related development, President Bush expressed "complete confidence" in adviser Karl Rove on Monday, offering the first public endorsement since his embattled aide's name surfaced as one of the administration officials who may have had a hand in unmasking Plame's identity.

In an interview with five Texas newspapers, Bush urged observers not to "prejudge" a leak investigation that carries potential legal and political peril for his administration, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Rove became implicated amid the grand jury testimony of Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who said he spoke with Rove about the Wilson report three days before his wife's name surfaced publicly in the piece by Novak. The reporter said Rove, speaking on deep background, confirmed that he heard Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

In giving Rove a vote of confidence, Bush - who has also been interviewed by Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor - said too many people are making judgments based solely on news reports. "I will be glad to comment on the particulars of this investigation once it's finished," he said.