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Leak probe not seen to end with Rove, lawyers say

Jason Leopold

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Patrick FitzgeraldSpecial Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not expected to shut down his investigation into the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson when he finishes his inquiry of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's role in the leak, lawyers close to the probe said.

These sources indicated that if a grand jury returns an indictment against Rove it will include -- at the very least -- a charge that he made false statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators when he was first interviewed about his role in the case in October 2003.

Individuals close to the probe say Fitzgerald is still investigating other unnamed White House officials. This part of the investigation, like that of Rove, is focusing on whether these officials committed perjury, obstruction of justice or lied to federal investigators during the early days of the investigation -- as opposed to violating an obscure law which makes it a crime to knowingly leak the name of an undercover CIA operative -- they say.

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When Fitzgerald announced the five-count indictment against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff who is accused of perjury and obstruction for his role in the leak, he said the bulk of his investigative work had been completed. Shortly thereafter, however, he convened another grand jury. According to those close to the probe, the prosecutor plans to use the jury well into next year to determine if other officials played a role in the leak and whether any laws were broken.

The second grand jury hearing evidence in the case convened for the first time earlier this month. Their term expires in 18 months.

The investigation is expected to shift back to top officials in the Office of the Vice President, the State Department and the National Security Council, and may even shed some light on the genesis of the Niger forgeries, lawyers close to the case say. The forged documents, cited in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, claimed Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from the African country. It may also reveal how key players in the White House decided to expose Plame's undercover status and top secret front company, Brewster Jennings.

Separately, these people said, the FBI's renewed interest in probing the Niger forgeries grew out of Fitzgerald's probe.

A court filing posted on Fitzgerald's website in October revealed that when the prosecutor subpoenaed New York Times reporter Judith Miller, he had already decided to pursue flawed intelligence the Bush administration used to build support for the Iraq war. Miller was jailed 85 days for refusing to disclose who had told her about Plame.

"On August 12 and August 20, 2004, grand jury subpoenas were issued to reporter Judith Miller and her employer, the New York Times, seeking documents and testimony related to 'conversations between Miller and a specified government official occurring between on or about July 6, 2003 and on or about July 13, 2003, concerning Valerie Plame Wilson (whether referred to by name or by description) or concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium,'" the filing states.

More than two dozen people from the White House have been interviewed or testified before the grand jury since Fitzgerald was tapped to lead the investigation two years ago. Some of those people, who sources close to the case would only say were "senior level," have cooperated with the prosecutor in exchange for immunity related to their role in the case. No plea deals have been entered into with any official, they added.

"Mr. Fitzgerald has secured the cooperation of certain individuals who faced the possibility of being prosecuted," one attorney close to the case said. "That's all I'm going to say."

One of those individuals may be an unnamed State Department official cited in a Sept. 28, 2003 Washington Post story. The official told the Post that six journalists were called and told about Plame Wilson's undercover status in an attempt to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's prewar Iraq intelligence who challenged the veracity of the uranium claim. Wilson debunked the administration's claims after being sent to Niger a year earlier to investigate the allegations.

The unnamed State Department official cited in the Post story appears to have intimate knowledge of the campaign to discredit Wilson. He also appears to have been sympathetic to the former ambassador.

The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed retired State Department official who told them of a Department memo describing Plame's alleged role in sending her husband to Africa and disputed the legitimacy of administration claims that Iraq sought to acquire uranium.

Sources close to the probe said the State Department official referenced in both stories is the same, and has been providing the special counsel with crucial evidence against certain White House officials for the past two years.

Daniel Richman, a law professor at Fordham University and former federal prosecutor who at one time worked with Fitzgerald, said in high-profile white collar cases it is very rare that a prosecutor will say, "We're done. We’ve got everything we need."

"There are very few definitives," Richman said. "It is rare to give a certification of innocence or to make a public declaration that the case is over," particularly while a grand jury's term has not expired.

Richman said he is not surprised Fitzgerald would be continuing his investigation into the leak.

"It is entirely normal not to have a clear end point," he said. "However, because there are so many individuals in government whose jobs may be at stake for their roles in the Plame leak, Fitzgerald could decide to announce an end to the investigation publicly so those people know that they are no longer under any scrutiny."

Richman said he thinks that any government official who faced criminal exposure in the case would be cooperating.

"But it's difficult to have a good sense whether that's the case because Mr. Fitzgerald has closely guarded the grand jury proceedings," he said. "What that means is that the case could be ongoing, petering out or revving up. It all depends on what he has now."

(Correction: The Washington Post article that mentioned that six journalists were called about Plame's identity was erroneously attributed to September 9, 2003 instead of September 28. Added a link to the article which is no longer accessible at the Washington Post Website.)

Originally published on Wednesday December 21, 2005



 


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