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Cheney's Office Is A Focus in Leak Case

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In the Bush White House, Cheney typically has operated secretly, relying on advice from a tight circle of longtime advisers, including Libby; David Addington, his counsel; and his wife, Lynne, and two children, including Liz, a top State Department official. But a former Cheney aide, who requested anonymity, said it is "implausible" that Cheney himself was involved in the leaking of Plame's name because he rarely, if ever, involved himself in press strategy.

One fact apparently critical to Fitzgerald's inquiry is when Libby learned about Plame and her CIA employment. Information that has emerged so far leaves this issue murky. A former CIA official told investigators that Cheney's office was seeking information about Wilson in May 2003, but it's not certain that officials with the vice president learned of the Plame connection then.

Miller, in her account, said Libby raised the issue of Plame in the June 23, 2003, meeting, describing her as a CIA employee and asserting that she had arranged the trip to Niger. Earlier that month, Libby discussed Wilson's trip with The Washington Post but never mentioned his wife.

Senior administration officials said there was a document circulated at the State Department -- before Libby talked to Miller -- that mentioned Plame. It was drafted in June as an administrative letter and addressed to then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who was acting secretary at the time since Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard L. Armitage were out of the country.

As a former State Department official involved in the process recalled it, Grossman wanted the letter as background for a meeting at the White House, where the discussion was focused on then growing criticism of Bush's inclusion in his January State of the Union speech of the allegation that Hussein had been seeking uranium from Niger.

The letter to Grossman discussed the reasons the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) did not believe the intelligence, which originated from foreign sources, was accurate. It had a paragraph near the beginning, marked "(S)," meaning it was classified secret, describing a meeting at the CIA in February 2002, attended by another INR analyst, where Plame introduced her husband as the person who was to go to Niger.

Attached to the letter were the notes from the INR analyst who had attended the session, but they were written well after the event occurred and contained mistakes about who was there and what was said, according to a former intelligence official who reviewed the document in the summer of 2003.

Grossman has refused to answer questions about the letter, and it is not clear whether he talked about it at the White House meeting he was said to have attended, according to the former State official.

Fitzgerald has questioned several witnesses from the CIA and State Department before the grand jury about the INR memo, according to lawyers familiar with the case.


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