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

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Reporter Gives CIA Leak Prosecutor '03 Notes

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 8, 2005; A22

New York Times reporter Judith Miller has discovered notes of a conversation she had with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff in June 2003 and has turned them over to the prosecutor investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to the media, according to two sources familiar with case.

Miller, 57, also has agreed to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's request that she meet with him Tuesday to answer additional questions as part of his probe, the sources said.

Miller testified before a grand jury Sept. 30 after spending 85 days in jail over her refusal to break a promise of confidentiality to her source. She changed her mind after the source, Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, urged her in a letter and phone call to answer Fitzgerald's questions about conversations they had on July 8 and July 12 or 13, 2003.

It is unclear why Fitzgerald wants to speak with Miller again. Miller turned over some redacted notes to the prosecutor last week, and her attorneys asked her to reexamine others, according to a source close to Miller. She found some that involve discussions she had with Libby about the CIA operative's husband, Bush administration critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, the source said.

Miller attorney Robert S. Bennett declined to comment yesterday.

Fitzgerald has been trying to determine whether any administration official broke the law by leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the administration's justification for war with Iraq.

Wilson was sent by the CIA to check a claim that Iraq was trying to obtain material for nuclear weapons from Niger and found no evidence for it. He publicly criticized the administration on July 6 for asserting, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq, was trying to obtain the material. On July 14, Plame's name and employment at the CIA were revealed in a column by Robert D. Novak.

But even as early as May 2003, Cheney's staff was looking into Wilson, according to administration sources familiar with the effort, prompted by a May 6 New York Times column by Nicholas D. Kristof in which the mission to Niger was described without using Wilson's name.

By early June, several weeks before Libby is said to have known Plame's name, the State Department had prepared a memo on the Niger case that contained information on Plame in a section marked "(S)" for secret. Around that time, Libby knew about the trip's origins, though in an interview with The Washington Post at the time, he did not mention any role played by Wilson's wife.

Fitzgerald is wrapping up his investigation; the current grand jury's term expires Oct. 28. He has asked White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to testify before the grand jury for a fourth time, but has warned that he cannot assure him he will not face charges.

During his 22-month investigation, Fitzgerald has questioned at least five reporters about their conversations with Libby in the summer of 2003. Libby's attorney, Joseph Tate, did not return calls yesterday seeking comment. Libby has testified that he did discuss Wilson's wife with reporters, but did not identify her by name or reveal her covert status. Rove has said the same. | Rove's nightmare

If Karl Rove told federal officials in 2003 he wasn't involved in outing Valerie Plame, he could face charges.
By Joe Conason

Oct. 07, 2005 | To understand why Karl Rove is believed to be in grave danger of indictment for his role in the Wilson leaks, let's return to the earliest days of the investigation. If Rove is found criminally liable for lying, then the falsehoods that led to his downfall may well have been uttered during the weeks when his old friend and client John Ashcroft was still in charge of the leaks probe -- and before the case was turned over to the special counsel, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

During the autumn of 2003, after repeated requests from the CIA, Ashcroft finally exercised his duty as attorney general to investigate the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity by administration officials to various journalists. Although the CIA first notified the Justice Department as early as July 30 of a potentially serious crime -- namely, a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act -- Justice didn't open an investigation until the end of September, after the CIA informed the department that it had completed its own review of the facts.

For three months, until Ashcroft decided to recuse himself, the investigation remained under his control, despite the well-founded suspicions of Rove's involvement. Ashcroft willfully ignored his own inherent conflict in overseeing a case that might lead to an indictment of Rove, who had assisted his political campaigns in Missouri and had directed the process that led to his appointment as attorney general. Only after repeated protests from Democrats in Congress, strong editorial comment on the unseemliness of Ashcroft's conduct, and polls showing public demand for an independent counsel did he finally recuse himself from the Wilson matter.

By then, however, the investigation had already begun, and Rove, among others in the White House, was already on record publicly denying any involvement in the leaks. Indeed, those denials by Rove himself and White House press secretary Scott McClellan returned to haunt them and the president earlier this year, following evidence provided by Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper about his July 2003 conversation with Rove concerning the Wilsons.

So now we know the truth about Rove's role -- or at least part of the truth -- and we know that he wasn't being honest back then. The question is what he may have told the FBI agents assigned to investigate the matter during those autumn weeks, before Ashcroft turned over the case to Fitzgerald in late December.

On Oct. 24, 2003, the Washington Post reported that Rove and McClellan, among dozens of others, had submitted to FBI interrogation about the leaks. Two months later, the Post quoted administration officials saying that Rove had been among the very first people to be interviewed by the FBI in pursuit of information about the case.

Back then, Rove might well have assumed that the case would be buried without any undue inconvenience to him. The president had publicly predicted, after all, that the perpetrators of the leak were unlikely to be identified. There was no reason, at the outset, to think that an independent-minded prosecutor would take over from Ashcroft a few months later.

If Rove told the FBI agents the same story that he and McClellan were telling the press, then he might have set himself up for a felony charge of lying to a federal law enforcement official. And if he lied, then he need not have been under oath to have committed a crime.

Another intriguing possibility in the leaks case brings back the baroque personality of right-wing pressroom denizen Jeff Gannon, born James Guckert.

The New York Times reported Friday that in addition to possible charges directly involving the revelation of Valerie Wilson's identity and related perjury or conspiracy charges, Fitzgerald is exploring other possible crimes. Specifically, according to the Times, the special counsel is seeking to determine whether anyone transmitted classified material or information to persons who were not cleared to receive it -- which could be a felony under the 1917 Espionage Act.

One such classified item might be the still-classified State Department document, written by an official of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, concerning the CIA's decision to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to look into allegations that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. Someone leaked that INR document -- which inaccurately indicated that Wilson's assignment was the result of lobbying within CIA by his wife, Valerie -- to right-wing media outlets, notably including Gannon's former employers at Talon News. On Oct. 28, 2003, Gannon posted an interview with Joseph Wilson on the Talon Web site, in which he posed the following question: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"

Gannon later hinted, rather coyly, that he had learned about the INR memo from an article in the Wall Street Journal. He also told reporters last February that FBI agents working for Fitzgerald had questioned him about where he got the memo. At the very least, that can be interpreted as confirming today's Times report about the direction of the case.

All such speculation about criminal indictments must be tempered with caution. Nobody outside Fitzgerald's office can be certain what charges he is considering or whose fate he is mulling over. Even the highest-ranking figures in the Bush White House, which would deprive others of their constitutional rights and has already done so, deserve the presumption of innocence.

But certain persons in this government committed a serious offense against the national security of the United States to serve political partisan ends -- and they don't deserve to get away with it.

-- By Joe Conason

Print Story: Letter shows Cheney aide was prodded in leak probe on Yahoo! News

By Adam Entous
Sat Oct 8,12:53 PM ET

A top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney got a push from a prosecutor before telling New York Times reporter Judith Miller that he wanted her to testify in a probe into the outing of a CIA operative whose diplomat husband was an Iraq-war critic.

The prosecutor's encouragement, in a letter obtained by Reuters, has prompted some lawyers in the case to question whether Cheney's aide was acting completely voluntarily when he gave Miller the confidentiality waiver she had insisted on.

The investigation has spotlighted free-press issues and the Bush administration's aggressive efforts to defend its Iraq policy against critics.

Miller maintains she only agreed to testify -- after spending 85 days in jail -- because she received what she describes as a personal and voluntary waiver of confidentiality from her source. She dismissed an earlier waiver by Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as coerced.

But Libby offered a new waiver that Miller accepted after he received a September 12 letter in which the prosecutor, investigating a possible White House role in the leak, repeatedly encouraged him to do just that.

"I would welcome such a communication reaffirming Mr. Libby's waiver," prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate.

"It would be viewed as cooperation with the investigation," Fitzgerald said.

Some lawyers in the case called the letter a thinly veiled threat seeking Libby's cooperation, and said it raised questions about whether Libby's waiver was as voluntary as Miller and her lawyers had described.

Others said it was not coercive.

"Is that pressure? Absolutely," said Richard Sauber, a Washington lawyer who represents Time magazine's Matt Cooper, who has also testified to the grand jury. But he added, "It is not unfair and it is not unduly coercive."

Fitzgerald has been investigating Libby, President George W. Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove and other administration officials over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, and lawyers involved in the case said there were signs Fitzgerald might be preparing to bring charges.

Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, has accused the administration of leaking her name and damaging her ability to work undercover in retaliation for his criticisms of Bush's Iraq policy.

Wilson had investigated for the CIA an administration charge that Iraq was seeking nuclear materials in Niger and concluded it was unsubstantiated, then he publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq.

Fitzgerald said in the September 12 letter that he was not seeking to compel a more-explicit confidentiality waiver.

"Mr. Libby, of course, retains the right not to so reaffirm his waiver ... if he would prefer that the status quo continue and Ms. Miller remain in jail rather than testify about their conversations," Fitzgerald wrote.

A lawyer in the case, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said, "It's coercive to have the prosecutor, at end of his investigation, say: 'Unless you take this additional step, I'm going to draw a negative inference against you."'

Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, said Fitzgerald's letter sounded reasonable on the surface, but the reference to cooperation could be taken either way.

"If you think you might be a target of an investigation, being cooperative could be viewed as a desirable thing to be," Kirtley said.

Marvin Kalb of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government said, "Libby took the hint."

Three days after Fitzgerald's letter, Libby on September 15 wrote directly to Miller urging her to testify. The New York Times has released copies of Libby's letter, but not Fitzgerald's.

On Sept 30, Miller testified before the grand jury about two conversations with Libby in July 2003.

Fitzgerald has summoned Miller again for a meeting on Tuesday after she found notes from an earlier, previously undisclosed conversation with Libby. The Times reported the conversation was on June 25, 2003.

Those notes could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby and other White House officials took an early interest in the backgrounds of Wilson and Plame, and talked to reporters, as reports of Wilson's investigation were surfacing but before he went public in a July 6, 2003, opinion piece in the Times.