The prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation presented a summary of his case to a federal grand jury yesterday and is expected to announce a final decision on charges in the two-year-long probe tomorrow, according to people familiar with the case.
Even as Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald wrapped up his case, the legal team of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has been engaged in a furious effort to convince the prosecutor that Rove did not commit perjury during the course of the investigation, according to people close to the aide. The sources, who indicated that the effort intensified in recent weeks, said Rove still did not know last night whether he would be indicted.
Fitzgerald is completing his probe of whether senior administration officials broke the law by disclosing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media in the summer of 2003 to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, an administration critic. The grand jury's term will expire Friday.
But after grand jurors left the federal courthouse before noon yesterday, it was unclear whether Fitzgerald had spelled out the criminal charges he might ask them to consider, or whether he had asked them to vote on any proposed indictments. Fitzgerald's legal team did not present the results of a grand jury vote to the court yesterday, which he is required to do within days of such a vote.
Yesterday's three-hour grand jury session came after agents and prosecutors this week conducted last-minute interviews with Adam Levine, a member of the White House communications team at the time of the leak, about his conversations with Rove, and with Plame's neighbors in the District.
Should he need more time to finish the investigation, Fitzgerald could seek to empanel a new group of grand jurors to consider the case. But sources familiar with the prosecutor's work said he has indicated he is eager to avoid that route. The term of the current grand jury has been extended once and cannot be lengthened again, according to federal rules.
The down-to-the-wire moves in Fitzgerald's investigation have made for a harrowing week at the White House, where officials are girding for at least one senior administration official to be indicted, according to aides.
Most concern is focused on Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Both had testified that they talked with reporters about Plame in the summer of 2003, according to lawyers familiar with their accounts, but both said they did not discuss her by name or disclose her covert status.
Yesterday was another surreal day at the White House, according to aides, with staff members wondering about who might be indicted. Rove and Libby continued to sit in on high-level meetings.
"We certainly are following developments in the news, but everybody's got a lot of work to do," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
A new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll reminded the White House of the damage the CIA leak case has already inflicted: Eight in ten people surveyed said that aides had either broken the law or acted unethically.
As the rest of Washington waited, President Bush tried to shift national attention back to the economy. In a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, he touted the "resilient and strong" economy and asserted it showed that his "pro-growth policies have worked."
Fitzgerald's investigation has centered on whether administration officials knowingly revealed Plame's identity in July 2003 because of Wilson's public criticism.
On July 6, 2003, Wilson accused the administration in The Washington Post and the New York Times of using flawed intelligence to justify the war with Iraq, and said his CIA-sponsored mission to Niger concluded months earlier that there was little support for an intelligence report that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material there.
Eight days later, columnist Robert D. Novak revealed Plame's name and her status as a CIA operative, attributing the information to two anonymous senior administration officials.
People close to Rove said he fears a perjury charge because he did not initially tell the grand jury that he had spoken with Time reporter Matthew Cooper about Plame before her name was publicly disclosed. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, declined to comment yesterday.
A lawyer other than Luskin who is familiar with Rove's legal strategy said the aide testified that he believed he was trading on publicly available information in discussing Plame with reporters.
In his fourth and final grand jury appearance, this lawyer said, Rove was asked why he did not mention his discussion of Plame with Cooper. Rove has told people he simply had forgotten the conversation.
Rove also testified that he may have learned about Plame from Libby, according to a person familiar with Rove's testimony. Some saw this as an effort to show Rove had no reason to believe the information about Plame was classified.
There were signs that Fitzgerald was still trying to piece together the Rove case as recently as Tuesday. Peter Zeidenberg, a Justice Department prosecutor working with Fitzgerald, called Levine that day to discuss a conversation Levine had with Rove on July 11, 2003, the day Rove spoke with Cooper, according to Daniel J. French, Levine's lawyer.
Levine, part of the White House communications team at the time of the leak, "was contacted as a witness," French said. Levine told Zeidenberg that he and Rove did not discuss Cooper in that conversation, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
As jurors left the courthouse yesterday, Fitzgerald exited the sealed grand jury room of the courthouse through a back elevator to avoid reporters waiting outside. He then met with Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan in Hogan's private chambers for about 45 minutes. Hogan confirmed the two had met yesterday, but declined to discuss the substance of their conversation.
One legal source said the two have met regularly to discuss practical matters about the case, which now include intense media interest and how to avoid improper leaks about secret grand jury matters.
The grand jury, a group of onetime strangers from across the District, has spent two days a week for nearly 24 months in the cloistered, guarded room on the third floor of the U.S. District Courthouse. They have sifted through the day planners of White House aides and listened intently as the prosecutor grilled West Wing officials and reporters who relied on them as confidential sources. They are paid $40 a day, plus $4 for transportation.
Now they might be called upon to make decisions that could deal a crippling blow to the Bush White House and put top administration officials on trial.
There were 23 members at the start, committed for 18 months. Their term was extended in May for six months. At least six original jurors have been excused because of hardships their service created. Some were replaced with alternates.
Like the jury's forewoman, the majority are African American women who appear to be middle-age or older. The jury includes at least two black men, two older white women and three white men. One trim, agile retiree with white hair often entered the grand jury room with his bicycle helmet in hand.
Lori Shaw, a criminal law professor at the University of Dayton and an expert on federal grand juries, said the amount of time this jury has put in likely means it is well-versed and invested in the case.
"You have to consider: They are not rookies at this anymore," Shaw said. "I have a feeling that by now this grand jury has a good idea of what crime, if any, occurred."
Staff writers Christopher Lee, Peter Baker and Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.