A Washington Post reporter's confidential source has revealed his or her identity to the special prosecutor conducting the CIA leak inquiry, a development that provides investigators with a fact they have been pursuing in the nearly year-long probe.
Post reporter Walter Pincus, who had been subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury in the case, instead gave a deposition yesterday in which he recounted his conversation with the source, whom he has previously identified as an "administration official." Pincus said he did not name the source and agreed to be questioned only with the source's approval.
"I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12 , and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source. Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity," Pincus said in a prepared statement.
"The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge," said The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr.
Pincus and Post executives said they do not know whether the source is in legal jeopardy as a result of revealing his or her identity, saying that it is a matter for the prosecutor to decide.
Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is investigating whether a government official illegally disclosed the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, to members of the media.
Pincus wrote last October that on July 12, 2003, "an administration official" told a Post reporter that Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's foreign policy, was sent to Niger at the suggestion of his wife, a CIA analyst looking into weapons of mass destruction, to investigate alleged efforts by Iraq to purchase uranium. Pincus later publicly revealed that he was the Post reporter.
It can be a crime to reveal the identity of a covert CIA employee if the disclosure is intended to expose the employee, and if it is done by someone authorized to receive such information in the course of official duties. Pincus has said previously that he does not believe his source committed a crime.
But even as Fitzgerald appeared to have reached the end of one investigative thread, he unspooled yet another yesterday, sending new broadly worded subpoenas for documents and testimony to Time magazine and one of its reporters, Matthew Cooper. Under threat of jail for contempt of court, Cooper agreed to be questioned three weeks ago about conversations he had with I. Lewis Libby, a senior aide to Vice President Cheney.
Pincus answered questions about Libby as well. Both he and Cooper said they did so with Libby's approval, and both said that their conversations with Libby did not touch on the identity of Wilson's wife.
Fitzgerald had focused on Libby as the possible leaker of Plame's name and identity, but the new subpoenas to Time suggest he may be rethinking that theory. Four reporters have now testified at Libby's urging that he did not disclose Plame's name or identity to them.
Cooper has been subpoenaed to testify Sept. 22 about any conversations prior to July 14, 2003, that he had with government officials relating to Wilson, his trip to Africa or Plame.
July 14 was the date that syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak revealed in a column that two administration officials named Plame, a CIA "operative," as the person who suggested that Wilson undertake the trip to Niger. Novak and his attorney have refused to comment on whether he has been subpoenaed.
Three days after Novak's column appeared, Cooper co-wrote a story on Time's Web site saying that administration officials told Time of Plame's role in Wilson's trip. Time has not said when those conversations occurred, however, an issue central to the investigation. Any disclosures "post-Novak," lawyers in the case said, are likely to be viewed as non-criminal discussion of information already in the public domain.
"We did believe we had reached an end, and what we have is a new beginning," said Time's deputy general counsel, Robin Bierstedt.
Time's outside counsel, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, said the magazine will again seek to quash the subpoenas and appeal the expected refusal by the district court.