Washington on Tenterhooks Over Leak Case
by Jim Lobe
up a two-year investigation that a growing number of legal analysts
expect to yield indictments of at least one, and possibly two, of
the George W. Bush administration's most powerful men as early as
this week, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has Washington
on pins and needles.
the witness list and accounts of recent testimony before Fitzgerald's
grand jury make clear, the prosecutor appears to have set his sights
on both Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and Vice President
Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby,
for their alleged roles in leaking the identity of a covert Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, Valerie Plame.
administration's right-wing defenders are preparing for the worst,
arguing that, as asserted by another prominent neoconservative,
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, the prosecutor is
part of a "comprehensive strategy of criminalization
implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern
indicted by the grand jury, which must complete its work by the
end of next week, would almost certainly have to resign.
Rove or Libby, such an indictment would not only constitute a serious
political embarrassment to an administration whose popularity is
already at its lowest ebb. Given the two men's central operational
roles, it would also almost certainly add to the disarray that has
enveloped the White House since Hurricane Katrina more than six
Rove has long been considered "Bush's brain" Bush
himself refers to him as "Boy Genius" Libby, perhaps
the single most influential neoconservative inside the administration,
oversees the exceptionally large and influential staff of the most
powerful vice president in U.S. history.
men were also part of the high-level White House Iraq Group (WHIG)
that was formally convened in September 2002, apparently to coordinate
efforts to rally the country behind the eventual decision to go
to war in Iraq. Fitzgerald reportedly has subpoenaed the group's
records and taken testimony from its members.
leak was apparently part of a White Houseorchestrated effort
to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a retired ambassador
who was sent by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports
that Iraq had tried to buy uranium yellowcake in Niger. He disclosed
his mission and his findings that the reports were false in a July
6, 2003, New York Times column that accused the administration
of taking the country to war under false pretenses.
days later, the Washington Post published a piece by right-wing
columnist Robert Novak that reported Plame's relationship to Wilson
and her alleged role in the decision to send her husband on the
mission. At the same time, several other Washington reporters said
they had been contacted by administration officials regarding Plame's
Novak's disclosure, the CIA referred the case to the Justice Department
under a 1982 law that makes it a crime to knowingly disclose the
identity of a covert U.S. officer. Under pressure from critics who
charged that, as a Bush appointee, he had a conflict of interest
in pursuing the case, former Attorney General John Ashcroft subsequently
appointed Fitzgerald as an independent special prosecutor in late
White House had insisted until relatively recently that neither
Rove nor Libby had ever spoken to reporters about Plame. However,
that position became untenable with the disclosure earlier this
summer by a Time magazine reporter who testified that he
had communications with both men about Wilson just before the Novak
column. Since then, the White House and Bush, who had said early
in the case that he would fire anyone involved in the leak, have
repeatedly refused all comment.
investigation and the grand jury's proceedings have been secret,
although lawyers who have represented various witnesses have occasionally
told reporters what their clients have been asked. Fitzgerald himself
has declined to make any public comments about the investigation,
so that it remains unclear even now whether he will indeed ask for
indictments and, if so, what they will be.
analysts believe the evidentiary requirements of the 1982 law, the
Intelligence Identities Act, may be too difficult to prove in this
case. If indictments are forthcoming, most legal observers say they
could involve the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,
obstruction of justice, or perjury or conspiracy to commit such
conspiracy charge could be particularly devastating because it could
put more high-level figures at risk.
speculation has become particularly intense over the last few days.
On Oct. 14, Rove made his fourth appearance before the grand jury
in what many commentators suggested was probably an eleventh-hour
effort to explain certain contradictions in his previous testimony.
his plight was eclipsed by a series of appearances before the grand
jury of Judith Miller, a controversial New York Times reporter,
who had spent nearly 90 days in jail rather than comply with Fitzgerald's
demand to disclose how she came to know of Plame's identity.
with the possibility of another contempt citation that would have
extended her time in jail, Miller negotiated a deal with Fitzgerald
to confine her testimony to conversations she had with Libby after
he personally assured her that he had no objection to her testifying.
account of her testimony, published in Sunday's Times, made
clear that Libby told her about Plame's employment in the CIA at
least two weeks before Wilson's article appeared. And while Miller
wrote that Libby had not identified Plame by name, other notations
in her notebook suggest that he had. Indeed, Miller's lawyer told
a television interviewer Sunday that "the central and essentially
only figure who had information [on Plame] was Libby."
ominous for the administration was Miller's disclosure that Fitzgerald
had asked repeatedly about whether she thought Cheney himself had
authorized or knew about Libby's exchanges with her regarding Plame.
She thought not.
mission to Niger is believed to have originated with a request by
Cheney to further investigate a Feb. 12, 2002, Defense Intelligence
Agency report, apparently based on documents initially circulated
by Italy's military intelligence (SISMI). According to Miller, Cheney
asked both the CIA and the Pentagon to investigate further.
some deliberation in which Plame, an expert on nuclear proliferation,
may have played a role, the CIA sent Wilson to Niger in late February,
while the Pentagon sent Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford, Jr., then-deputy
commander of the U.S. European Command at roughly the same time.
Fulford separately reached the same conclusion as Wilson
that the yellowcake transaction was highly unlikely.
was debriefed by the CIA on his return in early March, while Fulford
filed a written report. But whether their conclusions made it up
the chain of command remains a mystery.
office has insisted that it never heard anything from the CIA about
Wilson's mission. Fulford's report reached the office of the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then-Gen. Richard Myers, according
to official records, although Myers himself said he had "no
recollection" of it and no idea whether he passed it along
whose initial curiosity set off this flurry of travel and reporting,
however, appears to have lost interest in the results by March 24
when he appeared on three national public-affairs television programs
and on each one asserted for the first time that Iraq was actively
pursuing nuclear-weapons production.
Nigerien documents about the yellowcake deal whose existence was
first reported by SISMI were determined by the International Atomic
Energy Agency to have been crude forgeries on the eve of the U.S.
invasion. No investigation into their provenance either by
Congress or a grand jury has been undertaken.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service