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

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show - New York Times

Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 — I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war.

Lawyers said the notes show that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.

It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government’s deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment, and Mr. Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, would not comment on Mr. Libby’s legal status.

Mr. Fitzgerald is expected to decide whether to bring charges in the case by Friday when the term of the grand jury expires. Mr. Libby and Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser, both face the possibility of indictment, lawyers involved in the case have said. It is not publicly known whether other officials may be charged.

The notes help explain the legal difficulties facing Mr. Libby. Lawyers in the case said Mr. Libby testified to the grand jury that he had first heard from journalists that Ms. Wilson may have had a role in dispatching her husband on a C.I.A.-sponsored mission to Africa in 2002 in search of evidence that Iraq had acquired nuclear material there for its weapons program.

But the notes, now in Mr. Fitzgerald’s possession, also indicate that Mr. Libby first heard about Ms. Wilson — who is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame — from Mr. Cheney. That apparent discrepancy in his testimony suggests why prosecutors are weighing false statement charges against him in what they interpret as an effort by Mr. Libby to protect Mr. Cheney from scrutiny, the lawyers said.

The notes do not show that Mr. Cheney knew the name of Mr. Wilson’s wife. But they do show that Mr. Cheney did know and told Mr. Libby that Ms. Wilson was employed by the C.I.A. and that she may have helped arrange her husband’s trip.

Some lawyers in the case have said Mr. Fitzgerald may face obstacles in bringing a false statement charge against Mr. Libby. They said it could be difficult to prove that he intentionally sought to mislead the grand jury. Lawyers involved in the case said they have no indication that Mr. Fitzgerald is considering charging Mr. Cheney with wrongdoing. Mr. Cheney was interviewed under oath by Mr. Fitzgerald last year. It is not known what the vice president told Mr. Fitzgerald about the conversation with Mr. Libby or when Mr. Fitzgerald first learned of it.

But the evidence of Mr. Cheney’s direct involvement in the effort to learn more about Mr. Wilson is sure to intensify the political pressure on the White House in a week of high anxiety among Republicans about the potential for the case to deal a sharp blow to Mr. Bush’s presidency.

Mr. Tenet was not available for comment on Monday night. But another former senior intelligence official said that Mr. Tenet had been interviewed by the special prosecutor and his staff in early 2004, and never appeared before the grand jury. Mr. Tenet has not talked since then to the prosecutors, the former official said.

The former official said he strongly doubted that the White House learned about Ms. Plame from Mr. Tenet.

On Monday, Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby both attended a cabinet meeting with Mr. Bush as the White House continued trying to portray business as usual. But the assumption among White House officials is that anyone who is indicted will step aside.

On June 12, 2003, the day of the conversation between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby, the Washington Post published a front page story reporting that the C.I.A. had sent a retired American diplomat to the Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq had been seeking to buy uranium there. The story did not name the diplomat, who turned out to be Mr. Wilson, but it reported that his mission had not corroborated a claim about Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear material that the White House had subsequently used in Mr. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address.

An earlier anonymous reference to Mr. Wilson and his mission to Africa had appeared in a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in The New York Times on May 6, 2003. Mr. Wilson went public with his conclusion that the White House had "twisted" the intelligence about Iraq’s pursuit of nuclear material on July 6, 2003, in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times. The note written by Mr. Libby will be a key piece of evidence in a false statement case against Mr. Libby if Mr. Fitzgerald decides to pursue it, according to lawyers in the case. It also explains why Mr. Fitzgerald waged a long legal battle to obtain the testimony of reporters who were known to have talked with Mr. Libby.

The reporters involved have said that they did not supply Mr. Libby with details about Mr. Wilson and his wife. Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine, in his account of a deposition on the subject, wrote that he asked Mr. Libby whether he had even heard that Ms. Wilson had a role in sending her husband to Africa. According to Mr. Cooper, Mr. Libby did not use Ms. Wilson’s name but replied, "Yeah, I’ve heard that too."

In her testimony to the grand jury, Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times said that Mr. Libby sought from the start of her three conversations with him to "insulate his boss from Mr. Wilson’s charges."

Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions about Mr. Cheney, Ms. Miller said. "He asked for example, if Mr. Libby ever indicated whether Mr. Cheney had approved of his interview with me or was aware of them. The answer was no."

In addition to Mr. Cooper and Ms. Miller, Mr. Fitzgerald is known to have interviewed three other journalists who spoke with Mr. Libby during June and July 2003. They were Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, and Tim Russert of NBC News. Mr. Pincus and Mr. Kessler have said that Mr. Libby did not Mr. Wilson’s wife with them in their conversations during the period. Mr. Russert, in a statement, has declined to say exactly what he discussed with Mr. Libby, but said he first learned the identity of Mr. Wilson’s wife in the column by Mr. Novak, which appeared on July 14, 2003.

Bush calls CIA leak case 'very serious'

By Adam Entous
Monday, October 24, 2005; 3:09 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday the investigation into the outing of a covert CIA operative was "very serious," even as Republican allies started casting aspersions on the prosecutor and the possibility of perjury charges.

The mixed signals came as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald appeared close to indicting top White House officials in the nearly two-year investigation, lawyers involved in the case said.

Fitzgerald's investigation has focused largely on Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, and Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and their conversations with reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame in June and July of 2003.

After a Cabinet meeting, Bush was asked whether he agreed with Republican suggestions that Fitzgerald may be overzealous and that possible perjury charges would be little more than legal technicalities.

"This is a very serious investigation," Bush said. Rove sat behind the president in the Cabinet room; across the room sat Libby.

Lawyers involved in the case say Fitzgerald has laid the groundwork for indictments this week, and that he was focusing on whether Rove, Libby and others may have tried to conceal their involvement in the leak from investigators.

Indictments against any top officials would be a severe blow to an administration already at a low point in public opinion, and would put a spotlight on aggressive tactics used by the White House to counter critics of its Iraq policy.

Plame's identity was leaked to the media after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, challenged the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Lawyers said one possibility was a "split decision" in which Libby is indicted and Rove is spared.

But one lawyer involved in the case said that could be just as damaging to the White House because of the possibility that Cheney himself could be implicated in any resulting trial. "It's improbable to think of Libby out there as a free agent," the lawyer said.

Bracing for bad news, White House officials are discussing how to cope without Rove and Libby if they are indicted and forced to step down.

Asked about the uncertainty, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We've got to keep our energies focused on the things we can do something about."

While Fitzgerald could still charge administration officials with knowingly revealing Plame's identity, the lawyers said he appeared more likely to seek charges for easier-to-prove crimes such as making false statements, obstruction of justice and disclosing classified information.

Over the weekend, Republicans launched a preemptive strike against possible charges for perjury.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas derided any potential perjury charge as a "technicality," and suggested Fitzgerald may be trying to show that "two years' of investigation was not a waste of time and dollars."

Other Republicans with close ties to the White House suggested that Fitzgerald was looking at perjury and obstruction charges because he was having trouble proving that officials knowingly leaked the identity of a covert operative.

In contrast, Bush has publicly praised Fitzgerald's investigation, saying earlier this month that "he's doing it in a very dignified way."

© 2005 Reuters

Prosecutor in CIA leak case seen as incorruptible - Yahoo! News

By Andrew Stern

The U.S. prosecutor at the center of a CIA leak probe focused on the White House has relentlessly pursued politicians, mobsters and suspected terrorists.

Plucked from New York in 2001 to run the Chicago office of the Justice Department, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Brooklyn-born son of Irish immigrants, has a reputation as an incorruptible prosecutor in the mold of Chicago crime-fighter Eliot Ness, who took on Al Capone's criminal empire.

Fitzgerald has won convictions of the 1993 bombers of New York's World Trade Center and members of the Gambino crime family, and he secured an indictment of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom Fitzgerald has said he would like to try some day.

Fitzgerald was chosen in 2003 to investigate the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, criticized the Iraq war. The probe has led to interviews with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and four sessions of grand jury testimony by Bush political guru Karl Rove.

Lawyers and other sources involved in the case said on Sunday that Fitzgerald appeared to be laying the groundwork for indictments in the case this week, including possible charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Fitzgerald has angered some by getting high-profile reporters at Time magazine and The New York Times to testify about their anonymous sources under threat of jail.

The Times' Judith Miller was imprisoned for 85 days for contempt until Fitzgerald apparently interceded with her source, Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to give her a personal waiver and allow her to testify about their conversations. Legal experts said Fitzgerald's advice to Libby edged perilously close to crossing the line to coercion.

Some of Fitzgerald's methods have drawn the ire of media watchdogs who believe he is treading on principles of freedom of the press and frightening off anonymous sources by demanding reporters' sources.

"Journalists should not have to face the prospect of imprisonment for doing nothing more than aggressively seeking to report on the government's actions," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times.

Fitzgerald was criticized in another case for scouring the telephone records of two Times reporters to seek out their sources after they supposedly compromised government raids on two Chicago-based Muslim charities charged with funneling money to Muslim fighters and al Qaeda.


Chicago defense lawyers have accused Fitzgerald of overzealous prosecutions of government bureaucrats on corruption and influence-peddling charges that they say amounts to criminalizing what they call business as usual.

"My sense is that 'business as usual' in Chicago politics is ripe for investigation," University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt said.

"My impression is that he's an extraordinarily well-respected and, indeed, a tough and aggressive prosecutor," Harcourt said of the 44-year-old Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald's office is prosecuting former Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges, and another probe has reached into the upper echelons of Chicago Democratic Mayor Richard Daley's administration.

Described as a workaholic, Fitzgerald is known to awaken his prosecutors in the middle of the night with comments and questions.

He has bristled at any suggestion of political taint in his choice of prosecution targets, and professes to have no political allegiances or ambitions beyond his current job.

"As a prosecutor, you have two roles: Show judgment as to what to go after and how to go after it. But also, once you do that, to be zealous. And if you're not zealous, you shouldn't have the job. Now sometimes 'zealous' becomes a code word for overzealous and I don't want to be overzealous. I hope I'm not," Fitzgerald told The Washington Post in an interview.

Republicans Testing Ways to Blunt Leak Charges - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 - With a decision expected this week on possible indictments in the C.I.A. leak case, allies of the White House suggested Sunday that they intended to pursue a strategy of attacking any criminal charges as a disagreement over legal technicalities or the product of an overzealous prosecutor.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, is expected to announce by the end of the week whether he will seek indictments against White House officials in a decision that is likely to be a defining moment of President Bush's second term. The case has put many in the White House on edge.

Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., who is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, have been advised that they are in serious legal jeopardy. Other officials could also face charges in connection with the disclosure of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer in 2003.

On Sunday, Republicans appeared to be preparing to blunt the impact of any charges. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, speaking on the NBC news program "Meet the Press," compared the leak investigation with the case of Martha Stewart and her stock sale, "where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime."

Ms. Hutchison said she hoped "that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars."

President Bush said several weeks ago that Mr. Fitzgerald had handled the case in "a very dignified way," making it more difficult for Republicans to portray him negatively.

But allies of the White House have quietly been circulating talking points in recent days among Republicans sympathetic to the administration, seeking to help them make the case that bringing charges like perjury mean the prosecutor does not have a strong case, one Republican with close ties to the White House said Sunday. Other people sympathetic to Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have said that indicting them would amount to criminalizing politics and that Mr. Fitzgerald did not understand how Washington works.

Some Republicans have also been reprising a theme that was often sounded by Democrats during the investigations into President Bill Clinton, that special prosecutors and independent counsels lack accountability and too often pursue cases until they find someone to charge.

Congressional Republicans have also been signaling that they want to put some distance between their agenda and the White House's potential legal and political woes, seeking to cast the leak case as an inside-the-Beltway phenomenon of little interest to most voters.

"I think we just need to stick to our knitting on the topics and the subjects the American people care about," Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, said on "Fox News Sunday."

The case, which traces back to an effort by the White House to rebut criticism of its use of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq, has grown into a crisis for the administration that has the potential to shape the remainder of Mr. Bush's second term. Democrats signaled Sunday that they would use the inquiry to help weave a broader tapestry portraying the Republican Party as corrupt and the White House as dishonest with the American people.

"We know that the president wasn't truthful with us when he sent us to Iraq," Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said on "This Week" on ABC. "What got Rove and Libby in trouble was because they were attacking, which the Republicans always do, attacking somebody who criticized them and disagreed with them. They make the attacks personal. They go over the line."

Beyond introducing a Web site for his office last week, Mr. Fitzgerald has given no public hints of what, if any, action he might take. Whatever he decides, he is expected to make an announcement before Friday, the final day of the term of his grand jury. In the past, the grand jury has met on Wednesdays and Fridays.

His silence has left much of official Washington and nearly everyone who works at or with the White House in a state of high anxiety. That has been compounded by the widespread belief that there are aspects of the case beyond those directly involving Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby that remain all but unknown outside of Mr. Fitzgerald's office. Among them is the mystery of who first provided the C.I.A. officer's identity to the syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who published it on July 14, 2003.

The negative effects on Mr. Bush's presidency if his senior aides were indicted, said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, would be as great as the positive effects of Mr. Bush's handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"This is the most important turning point for his administration in terms of turning down and losing support," Mr. Thurber said.

A weakened White House, he said, could lead to further infighting among the conservatives who provide most of Mr. Bush's legislative, grass-roots and financial support, and could leave the administration with even less political clout to sway Democrats in Republican-leaning states to back Mr. Bush's agenda.

Republicans acknowledged the problems facing the White House but said Mr. Bush would ultimately be judged on whether he produced results in addressing the issues of most concern to the American people.

"If you look at poll numbers and things like that, we face challenges," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee. But even in the last few months, he said, the White House has made "tremendous long-term progress" on a variety of fronts.

He cited the referendum on a constitution in Iraq, signs that the economy remains strong and what he characterized as evidence that Mr. Bush's signature education legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, is producing measurable results.

Mr. Fitzgerald has been focused on whether there was an illegal effort at the White House to undermine the credibility of Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who became a critic of the administration's Iraq policy by his dismissive comments over the possibility that Baghdad had sought to buy uranium fuel from Niger.

The prosecutor has sought to determine if the effort against Mr. Wilson involved the intentional identification of his wife, Valerie Wilson. Mr. Fitzgerald has tried to find out whether Bush officials violated the law that protects the identities of undercover officers like Ms. Wilson or sought to impede the inquiry by misleading investigators or providing false information about their actions.