Prosecutor In CIA Leak Case Casting A Wide Net
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.
Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street.
In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed.
Most of the questioning of CIA and State Department officials took place in 2004, the sources said.
It remains unclear whether Fitzgerald uncovered any wrongdoing in this or any other portion of his nearly 18-month investigation. All that is known at this point are the names of some people he has interviewed, what questions he has asked and whom he has focused on.
Fitzgerald began his probe in December 2003 to determine whether any government official knowingly leaked Plame's identity as a CIA employee to the media. Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, has said his wife's career was ruined in retaliation for his public criticism of Bush. In a 2002 trip to Niger at the request of the CIA, Wilson found no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium from that African country and reported back to the agency in February 2002. But nearly a year later, Bush asserted in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, attributing it to British, not U.S., intelligence.
Fitzgerald has said in court that he had completed most of his investigation at a time when he was pressing for New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify about any conversations she had with a specific administration official about Plame during the week before Plame's identity was revealed.
Miller, who never wrote a story about the matter, is in jail for refusing to comply with a court order to testify. Court records show Fitzgerald is seeking information about communications she had with the Bush official between July 6 and July 13, 2003, when the White House was attempting to discredit Wilson and his allegations.
Fitzgerald appears to believe that Miller's conversations may help him get to the bottom of the leak and the damage-control campaign undertaken by senior Bush officials that week.
Using background conversations with at least three journalists and other means, Bush officials attacked Wilson's credibility. They said that his 2002 trip to Niger was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, but CIA officials say that is incorrect. One reason for the confusion about Plame's role is that she had arranged a trip for him to Niger three years earlier on an unrelated matter, CIA officials told The Washington Post.
Miller's role remains one of many mysteries in the leak probe. It is unclear whom, if anyone, she spoke to about Plame, and why she emerged as a central figure in the probe despite never having written a story about the case. Also murky is the role of Novak, who first publicly identified Plame in a syndicated column published July 14, 2003.
Lawyers have confirmed that Novak discussed Plame with White House senior adviser Karl Rove four or more days before the column identifying her ran. But the identity of another "administration" source cited in the column is still unknown. Rove's attorney has said Rove did not identify Plame to Novak.