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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Some questions and answers about the CIA leak case.

Q What started the investigation?

AOn July 6, 2003, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV went public with his conclusion that it was highly doubtful that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger to build weapons of mass destruction. That called into question one of the central claims made by the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq.

Eight days later, syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote that "two senior administration officials" told him that Wilson had been suggested for the trip by his wife. Novak identified her as Valerie Plame, a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction."

On Sept. 26, 2003, the FBI and Justice Department began an investigation, and after Attorney General John D. Ashcroft recused himself, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Chicago was named as a special counsel in December 2003 to investigate whether the identification of Plame, who was an undercover CIA officer, was a violation of federal law.

What happened yesterday?

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Does this mean the case is over?

No. Libby still must be arraigned and either face trial or negotiate the terms of a plea agreement.

Fitzgerald said his investigation will continue. Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, remains under investigation.

What is Libby accused of doing wrong?

The indictment alleges that Libby lied during interviews with FBI investigators and during sworn appearances before the grand jury. Libby said that he had heard about Plame from Tim Russert of NBC and merely passed on the information as unsubstantiated gossip to other reporters.

But the indictment alleges that it was Libby who told several reporters that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. The indictment says Libby had frequent conversations and meetings with other administration officials in which he learned information about Plame.

Does the indictment reveal anything else about the case?

The indictment says Cheney was one of the officials who provided information about Plame to Libby, telling him that she worked in the CIA's counterproliferation division. It indicates that at least seven administration officials outside the CIA, including Libby, Cheney and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, knew Plame worked at the CIA before Novak's column was published.

Libby is also portrayed as intently focused on gathering information about Wilson, whose allegations were potentially damaging to the administration, and spreading that information to reporters.

Why isn't Libby or anyone else charged with leaking classified information?

Fitzgerald did not rule out future charges, and he said that Libby's alleged obstruction made it impossible to know all the facts.

The special counsel's office said that Plame's CIA employment was classified and that her connection to the CIA "was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community" prior to Novak's column. Disclosing such information had "the potential to damage the national security," the office said in a news release.

But Fitzgerald also noted that proving illegal disclosure of classified information under various federal statutes is difficult. The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, for example, requires a prosecutor to show that a government official knowingly disclosed the identity of a covert officer and has been used in only a handful of cases.

Who was interviewed during the investigation?

Fitzgerald's wide-ranging 22-month probe included interviews with Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby and many others. Many of these officials, as well as journalists such as Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, also testified before the grand jury hearing the case.

Why did the indictment take so long?

Fitzgerald told the court a year ago that his investigation was largely complete except for testimony he was seeking from Cooper and Miller. Much of the past year has involved highly public battles between the prosecutor and journalists. Fitzgerald said yesterday the probe would continue.

Did any journalists cooperate with investigators?

Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post and NBC's Russert agreed to limited questioning by Fitzgerald's investigators after receiving waivers from their sources. Cooper testified before the grand jury after receiving a similar waiver.

Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify, but she was released after she said her source, Libby, gave her explicit permission to talk. Controversy swirled around Miller because Libby's attorney said she had been free to testify for a year, and New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has said Miller may have misled the newspaper about aspects of the case.

Novak has declined to comment in detail on his role. But The Post reported earlier this week that the columnist began cooperating with Fitzgerald early on.

How did the grand jury work?

Twenty-three original members were first seated at the U.S. District Courthouse in November 2003for an 18-month term. Fitzgerald began presenting information in January 2004 and received a six-month extension this May. Yesterday was the grand jury's last day, but Fitzgerald indicated he would make use of a new grand jury if necessary.

Most of the jurors were African American women over the age of 40. At least six jurors were excused for personal reasons. Some were replaced with alternates. A minimum of 12 jurors are required to vote for an indictment.

What is an indictment?

In the federal court system, an indictment is a formal statement of criminal charges handed up by a grand jury. That is different from a criminal complaint, which is filed by a prosecutor without the vote of a grand jury.

What happens next?

Libby will make an initial appearance before a federal judge. During that appearance or in a later hearing, he will be arraigned and will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

At an arraignment, the judge sets a trial date and a schedule for motions to be filed by both sides. A variety of hearings and motions would follow before the case actually came to trial. The vast majority of cases in the federal system are settled by plea agreements before they reach trial.

-- Dan Eggen


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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