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The When and How of Leak Being Probed
"I think that they are frustrated," said another person who has talked to investigators. "What activity occurred pre-Novak and what occurred post-Novak . . . is a distinction people working the story wouldn't have made at the time," this source said.
Most witnesses have declined to comment on the investigation. Some lawyers representing witnesses have been told that their discussions with investigators should be kept confidential, and as a result there has been little of the usual communication among lawyers about where prosecutors may be headed. One witness's lawyer said that in addition to the admonition from prosecutors, attorneys have avoided communicating with one another so as not to be accused of obstruction.
Among those who are known to have been interviewed by the FBI or testified before the grand jury are Bush White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis I. Libby, Republican National Committee consultant Mary Matalin, former Cheney press aide Catherine Martin, White House press secretary Scott McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, deputy press secretary Claire Buchan, and former assistant press secretary Adam Levine. Bush and Cheney also have been interviewed, as has Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Several reporters have given limited depositions about their conversations with Libby in the days before the Novak column was published. All did so at the urging of Libby, who has told the prosecutor he heard about Wilson's wife's employment from someone in the media, according to lawyers involved in the case. Two news organizations, Time magazine and the New York Times, have gone to the U.S. Court of Appeals to fight subpoenas for reporters' testimony.
Novak and his lawyer have refused to comment on whether he has been subpoenaed or interviewed by Fitzgerald's office. He has written that Plame's identity was revealed to him in passing by one senior administration official and confirmed by a second official. He has said the intent was not to expose an undercover CIA employee, but to explain why a critic of the Bush administration was selected to investigate possible efforts by Iraq to buy uranium in Africa after Cheney asked for more information on the subject in 2002.
Bush mentioned reports of those attempts in his 2003 State of the Union address. Wilson thereafter contended publicly that the White House had exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq, saying he found no evidence that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in the nation of Niger.
Novak said he was told that Wilson was recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA operative in weapons nonproliferation.
Based on what has long been known publicly, there is little doubt that some White House aides circulated the Plame story a week after Novak's column appeared, in an apparent effort to cast doubt on Wilson's credibility. Wilson has said he received calls from two NBC television reporters, on July 20 and July 21, who said White House officials were telling them that Wilson's wife's role was the real story.
In questioning reporters for The Washington Post, NBC and Time, prosecutors have shown a particular interest in the events of July 12, reporters and their attorneys have said. Word that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA had by then circulated to some media organizations, though the origin of the information is not publicly known.
While Novak's column did not run until Monday, July 14, it could have been seen by people in the White House or the media as early as Friday, July 11, when the Creators Syndicate distributed it over the Associated Press wire.
One current or former administration official has told Fitzgerald that he or she had a conversation with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus on Saturday, July 12, Pincus has said publicly. Pincus also has said his source was not Libby. Pincus has previously said that an administration official told him that day that Wilson's trip to Niger was set up as a boondoggle by his CIA-employed wife.
Time reporter Matthew Cooper has told prosecutors that he talked to Libby on July 12 and mentioned that he had heard that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, a source knowledgeable about his testimony said. Cooper testified that Libby said he had heard the same thing from the media.
Tensions between staff members at the White House and the CIA were running high over Wilson's allegations of exaggerated intelligence, and they would only get worse after the publication of Novak's column.
Then-CIA Director George J. Tenet had issued a statement July 11, 2003, saying that Wilson's findings in Niger did not actually resolve the question of whether Hussein tried to buy uranium there. But Tenet nevertheless said the statement on Africa should not have been included in Bush's State of Union address, and he took responsibility for his agency's vetting of the speech. White House communications director Bartlett agreed, telling reporters that "there was no debate or questions with regard to that line when it was signed off on."
But an agency bureaucrat stirred a new round of confusion and White House anger the following week.
On July 16, two days after Novak's column appeared, Alan Foley, then-director of the CIA's intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control center, told Senate intelligence committee members that he had insisted the White House remove a reference to Niger and uranium from the State of the Union address. The White House maintained there was never any specific reference to Niger in drafts of the speech, nor, it said, had the CIA expressed any objection to referring to reports Iraq had attempted to buy uranium in Africa.
Foley later told the committee staff he may have been confused, according to a Senate committee report on Iraq intelligence released this year. The Senate report determined that Foley's original testimony had been incorrect and that the CIA had not raised concerns about the Iraq-Niger reporting in the speech.
It was in the ensuing days that television reporters Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell would tell Wilson they had heard from administration aides that the real story was not what Wilson found in Niger but his wife's role in selecting him for the trip.