The CIA leak investigation returned to a more active stage yesterday as a special prosecutor presented information to a grand jury for the first time in six weeks.
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's decision to enlist a new grand jury comes as he continues to investigate possible criminal charges against senior White House adviser Karl Rove. Rove faces possible legal consequences for not telling investigators for months that he had provided information about CIA operative Valerie Plame to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in July 2003.
Rove disclosed the conversation only after Cooper was subpoenaed to testify about their discussions, said sources familiar with Rove's account. Rove maintains that he initially forgot about the contact, the sources said.
Yesterday was the first time a grand jury has met to consider the case since Oct. 28, when a previous grand jury indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. Fitzgerald, who arrived with four deputies, an FBI agent and boxes of files, declined to comment on the three-hour session as he left the courthouse. No witnesses were seen entering the grand jury room.
But several legal experts and sources involved in the case said Fitzgerald was probably providing the new grand jury with a primer on what has been learned in the investigation and what remains unresolved. They said the prosecutor's move into a more active probe could spell trouble for Rove, or for other people enmeshed in more recent developments in the case.
Fitzgerald has spent two years investigating whether White House officials knowingly disclosed Plame's identity and undercover status in 2003 to discredit allegations made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The term of the previous grand jury expired on the day it indicted Libby on five felony counts of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice. Fitzgerald said then that he would continue to look into lingering issues, and he privately told Rove's attorney that Rove remained under investigation.
Two other revelations have been made since then. Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward disclosed that, unbeknown to Fitzgerald, an administration source had told him about Plame's CIA role in June 2003, before Libby allegedly disclosed similar information to another reporter. In a Nov. 14 deposition, Woodward answered questions under oath from Fitzgerald about the mid-June 2003 conversation with his source. The source, whose identity has not been revealed, had testified much earlier in Fitzgerald's investigation but did not mention the conversation, said two sources familiar with the investigation.
Time magazine disclosed on Nov. 27 that one of its reporters, Viveca Novak, would soon answer Fitzgerald's questions about conversations she had with Rove attorney Robert Luskin in 2004. Sources familiar with the case said Luskin told Fitzgerald in October that those conversations would help buttress Luskin's argument that Rove did not intentionally conceal his contacts with reporters from the grand jury.
Novak is scheduled to give a deposition under oath to Fitzgerald today, two sources close to the case said.
Luskin declined to comment on the grand jury session yesterday. "What I can say is, there's been no change in Karl's status since late October," he said. At that time, Fitzgerald told Luskin that Rove remained under investigation but that he would hold off on charging him because of information Luskin had provided late that month.
Randall D. Eliason, who headed public corruption prosecutions in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said Fitzgerald would not go through the trouble of repeating information to a new grand jury unless he is considering criminal charges or there are significant, potentially criminal matters he wants to resolve.
"The fact that Fitzgerald is going through the effort to re-present is certainly a sign that the investigation is active," Eliason said.