Role of Rove, Libby in CIA Leak Case Clearer
Sunday, October 2, 2005
As the CIA leak investigation heads toward its expected conclusion this month, it has become increasingly clear that two of the most powerful men in the Bush administration were more involved in the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame than the White House originally indicated.
With New York Times reporter Judith Miller's release from jail Thursday and testimony Friday before a federal grand jury, the role of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, came into clearer focus. Libby, a central figure in the probe since its earliest days and the vice president's main counselor, discussed Plame with at least two reporters but testified that he never mentioned her name or her covert status at the CIA, according to lawyers in the case.
His story is similar to that of Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser. Rove, who was not an initial focus of the investigation, testified that he, too, talked with two reporters about Plame but never supplied her name or CIA role.
Their testimony seems to contradict what the White House was saying a few months after Plame's CIA job became public.
In October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that he personally asked Libby and Rove whether they were involved, "so I could come back to you and say they were not involved." Asked if that was a categorical denial of their involvement, he said, "That is correct."
What remains a central mystery in the case is whether special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has accumulated evidence during his two-year investigation that any crime was committed. His investigation has White House aides and congressional Republicans on edge as they await Fitzgerald's announcement of an indictment or the conclusion of the probe with no charges. The grand jury is scheduled to expire Oct. 28, and lawyers in the case expect Fitzgerald to signal his intentions as early as this week.
Fitzgerald is investigating whether anyone illegally disclosed Plame's name or undercover CIA job in retaliation against her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. In the summer of 2003, Wilson, a former diplomat, accused the White House of using "twisted" intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
He claimed firsthand evidence: At the behest of the CIA, he had flown to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the administration's assertion that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium in the African nation for use in its nuclear weapons program. Wilson returned unconvinced the assertion was true. However, Bush himself made the charge in his 2003 State of the Union address, prompting Wilson to spread word throughout the government and eventually make public his rebuttal.
Many lawyers in the case have been skeptical that Fitzgerald has the evidence to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is the complicated crime he first set out to investigate, and which requires showing that government officials knew an operative had covert status and intentionally leaked the operative's identity.
But a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.
Lawyers involved in the case interviewed for this report agreed to talk only if their names were not used, citing Fitzgerald's request for secrecy.
One source briefed on Miller's account of conversations with Libby said it is doubtful her testimony would on its own lead to charges against any government officials. But, the source said, her account could establish a piece of a web of actions taken by officials that had an underlying criminal purpose.