A photo caption with a July 17 article, on a picture of Valerie Plame and Joseph C. Wilson IV, incorrectly said that the photo was taken for Vanity Fair magazine. The photo, by Carol Joynt, was taken for Joynt's Web site, www.nathansgeorgetown.com.
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In Plame Leaks, Long Shadows
A day later, Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, told Cooper he had heard the same thing about Plame, and a senior administration official flagged the role of Wilson's wife, almost in passing, to The Washington Post's Walter Pincus.
On July 14, Novak's column ran, naming Plame for the first time and saying two senior administration officials had provided him the information. The White House anti-Wilson campaign continued, but legally it did not matter, because once Plame's name was in the public domain, Rove and others were free to gossip about her.
Rove told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Plame was fair game, even as White House spokesman Scott McClellan was denying any White House role in the leak. "I'm telling you flatly that that is not the way this White House operates," the spokesman told reporters July 22. McClellan was usually careful to stress involvement in any illegal leak, though his public statements clearly left an impression of a White House aloof to the affair.
CIA officials believed that the revealing of Plame's identity was a potential crime and contacted the Justice Department to investigate. CIA officials maintain that Plame never ordered up the trip.
It is not clear when the White House realized Plame might have been a covert operative, but Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for an FBI probe 10 days after the Novak column was published. It would be a crime to reveal her name only if a government official knew that Plame had covert status and knew that the government was actively concealing her identity.
The uproar over the leak was ephemeral, as the story seemed to wilt in the summer heat. But in late September, a senior White House official was quoted as telling The Post at least six reporters had been told of Plame before Novak's column, "purely and simply out of revenge." Two days later, Bush was told that the Justice Department was investigating whether someone had unlawfully leaked the identity of an undercover agent.
Chicago U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald was named special counsel three months later, setting in motion an aggressive investigation that would soon force about a dozen administration officials to testify, compel the Supreme Court to consider the age-old question of how much protection a reporter can provide a source, and land one reporter, the New York Times's Judith Miller, behind bars for refusing to testify. Her role remains a mystery, because she never wrote a story.
Fitzgerald subpoenaed White House phone records and e-mails, guest lists for parties and information about the State Department memo reportedly brought aboard Air Force One. What started out as a simple investigation into a leak evolved slowly at first, swiftly in the early days of 2004, into a wider probe of other potential illegalities. Bush and Cheney were asked to talk to investigators informally, while a parade of officials from Powell to Rove to McClellan appeared before the grand jury.
Lawyers who have sat in on the prosecutors' interviews said Fitzgerald cast a wide net, adopting a broad view of the case. Some witnesses were asked only about the initial disclosure, others about possible misstatements during the investigative phase. Some were brought in several times. Rove, for example, was grilled by FBI agents twice in formal meetings and asked to respond to questions in informal settings, and appeared three times before the grand jury -- all between October 2003 and October 2004, said a person familiar with his testimony.
Reporters obtained releases from sources such as Libby to discuss confidential conversations, while others refused. Cooper and Miller, in a case that reached and was rejected by the Supreme Court, refused to reveal sources and were held in contempt. Cooper was released by Rove to talk; Miller is sitting in an Alexandria jail.
The showdown over sources has already impeded at least two major media outlets. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, fearing criminal prosecution, has decided against publishing two investigative pieces not related to the Plame controversy because they were based on anonymous leaks. And Time reporters have said that at least two sources have told them they would no longer provide information because the company turned over documents in the Plame case.
As for the Bush administration, the investigation has exposed how an administration that publicly deplores leaking has engaged aggressively in the practice to advance its goals.
Yet much of the case remains a mystery. Did the White House leak the identity of a CIA operative? Is it a crime? Did Bush have any knowledge of it? Will Fitzgerald have spent this much time pressuring officials and reporters and not deliver an indictment? Those questions may be answered soon, as the grand jury's term is set to expire in October.