By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2005
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified for a second time in the CIA leak case yesterday, providing new details about a previously undisclosed conversation she had with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff about the diplomat at the center of the 22-month investigation.
Miller was told by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald that she is done testifying in the case and free to return to work without a contempt-of-court threat hanging over her head, her lawyers said. Miller refused to comment after spending nearly 75 minutes in front of the grand jury.
"The contempt has been lifted, and I am delighted that Judy can go forward with her great reporting," said Robert S. Bennett, Miller's attorney.
Miller, who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify in the case, told the grand jury about a June 23, 2003, conversation she had with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's top adviser, regarding former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had accused the White House of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
Bennett refused to discuss Miller's testimony, but lawyers in the case said Fitzgerald appears increasingly interested in whether White House officials were involved in a broad effort to discredit Wilson as early as May or June of 2003, in part by unmasking his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Wilson was sent on a CIA-funded mission to Niger in 2002 -- at the suggestion of his wife -- to investigate whether Iraq had sought to buy nuclear weapons-grade material in Niger. Libby and Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, have testified that they each discussed Plame with two reporters in July of 2003 but never mentioned her by name or her covert status at the agency, according to lawyers involved in the case.
The two officials have testified that they were trying to wave reporters off Wilson's allegation.
The June 23 conversation would be significant if Miller and Libby discussed Plame, the lawyers in the case said. If they did, it could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby was involved in an administration effort to unmask Plame weeks before she was publicly outed by conservative columnist Robert D. Novak in the middle of July.
As early as May of that year, Cheney's office was actively seeking information about Wilson from the CIA, according to former senior administration officials. Libby was aware of the diplomat and his mission by the time he talked with a Washington Post reporter in early June. By then -- one month before Plame was unmasked -- the State Department had prepared a memo on the Niger mission that contained information in a section marked "(S)" for secret. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, brought the memo on a trip to Africa by President Bush in the days before Novak's column was published.
The lawyers said Fitzgerald does not appear likely to charge anyone with the crime he originally set out to investigate: whether anyone in the Bush administration knowingly disclosed the identity of a CIA operative whose covert status the agency was actively trying to keep secret. That crime is difficult to prove because Fitzgerald would have to show that the officials knew Plame was a covert operative and that the CIA did not want her name revealed.
Instead, based on the questions Fitzgerald is asking, the lawyers surmised that he is looking into a broad conspiracy charge against a group of administration officials or into charging one or more officials with easier-to-prove crimes such as disclosing classified material, making false statements or perjury.
As the investigation comes to its expected conclusion, Fitzgerald appears to be focusing on Libby and Rove, according to people involved in the case. Rove, who is expected to make his fourth appearance before the grand jury this week, has not been guaranteed by Fitzgerald that he will not be charged in the investigation, a source close to Rove has said.
"This prosecutor may have new information that may contradict prior testimony or may have questions about prior testimony, [or] may simply seek a clarification," Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday on NBC's "Today" show, when asked why a person would be called back to testify. "I'm not going to try to speculate what the motivation is behind Mr. Fitzgerald in asking a return by any witness. But there are a variety of reasons that someone might be called back to answer additional questions before a grand jury."
The grand jury has been hearing evidence for the past two years. It is due to expire on Oct. 28.