A Washington Post reporter was questioned yesterday by the special prosecutor investigating the possibly illegal leak of a CIA employee's identity by Bush administration officials.
State Department reporter Glenn Kessler submitted to a tape-recorded interview that will be provided to a grand jury investigating the disclosure last summer of CIA employee Valerie Plame's name to columnist Robert D. Novak.
Kessler said he agreed to be interviewed about two phone conversations he had with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, at Libby's urging. At the prosecutor's request, Libby and other White House aides have signed waivers saying they agree to release reporters they have talked to from keeping confidential any disclosures about Plame.
Kessler said he told prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald that, during conversations last July 12 and July 18, Libby did not mention Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, or Wilson's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger to investigate whether Iraq tried to buy uranium there.
In October, The Post reported that "on July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."
The article said Plame's name was not mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure was to cast doubt on Wilson's report rather than reveal her identity. Novak had reported a similar account on July 14 that he said was provided him by two administration officials.
Kessler said he would not have agreed to testify if it had violated any promise of confidentiality.
"Mr. Libby signed a waiver in which he asked me to discuss with the special counsel whether the Wilson matter was raised in two conversations that I had with him in 2003. Under these circumstances, at the request of my source, I am giving a deposition regarding these questions," Kessler said.
The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., said the decision to allow Kessler to be deposed was "reached in a way so that we are not violating any confidential source agreements, and we will never do so willingly."
Kessler said that his testimony was limited to inquiries about the Plame-Wilson matter, and that he did not discuss the unrelated topics he discussed with Libby on July 12 and July 18. The interview took place in the presence of lawyers for The Post at a law office rather than before the grand jury, which has been taking testimony since January.
Fitzgerald has subpoenaed reporters from NBC and Time magazine, and both news organizations have gone to court to try to block his efforts. Legal experts said that reporters can often tie up requests for their testimony in lengthy court proceedings but in the end are afforded little protection from having to testify if subpoenaed before a grand jury.