Bush Aides Testify in Leak Probe
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
A federal grand jury has questioned one current and two former aides to President Bush, and investigators have interviewed several others, in an effort to discover who revealed the name of an undercover CIA officer to a newspaper columnist, sources involved in the case said yesterday.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday that he talked to the grand jury on Friday. Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Cheney, testified Jan. 23, the sources said. Adam Levine, a former White House press official, also testified Friday, the sources said.
None is suspected by prosecutors of having exposed undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, but they were questioned about White House public relations strategy, the sources said.
FBI agents have interviewed those and at least five other current and former Bush aides and have questioned them about thousands of e-mails that the White House surrendered in October, along with stacks of call logs and calendars, the sources said.
The logs indicate that several White House officials talked to columnist Robert D. Novak shortly before July 14, when he published a column quoting "two senior administration officials" saying that Plame, "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," had suggested her husband for a mission to Niger to investigate whether Iraq tried to acquire uranium there as part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons.
White House witnesses have been asked about cell phone calls and have been shown handwritten, diary-style notes from colleagues, as well as e-mails from reporters to administration officials. In at least a few cases, the FBI questioning was portrayed as very aggressive, with agents homing in on specific conversations with journalists. "Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries," a source close to the investigation said.
Plame is married to Joseph C. Wilson IV, former U.S. ambassador to Gabon. He became a prominent critic of Bush's case for war after conducting the mission in 2002 and finding no proof that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear materials.
The White House e-mails include criticism of Wilson, the sources said. Wilson is an unpaid foreign policy adviser to the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), and has made campaign stops for him in Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Washington state.
A parallel FBI investigation into the apparent forgery of documents suggesting that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger is "at a critical stage," according to a senior law enforcement official who declined to elaborate. That probe, conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents, was launched last spring after U.N. officials pronounced the documents crude forgeries.
Several sources involved in the leak case said the questioning suggests prosecutors are preparing to seek testimony from Novak and perhaps other journalists. "There's a very good likelihood they're going to litigate against journalists," one source said.
News organizations typically resist subpoenas or other methods of obtaining information about confidential sources. In the Plame case, prosecutors have tried to overcome that obstacle by asking several White House officials to sign waivers requesting "that no member of the news media assert any privilege or refuse to answer any questions from federal law enforcement authorities on my behalf or for my benefit."
The sources said most officials declined to sign the form on the advice of their attorneys. "It would just be helping the government to put more pressure on journalists to reveal sources," one of the lawyers said.