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Second Cheney aide cooperating in leak probe, those close to case say

Jason Leopold and Larisa Alexandrovna

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Vice President Dick CheneyA second aide to Vice President Dick Cheney is cooperating with the special prosecutor's probe into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, those close to the investigation say.

Late Monday, several sources familiar with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe said John Hannah, a key aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and one of the architects of the Iraq war, was cooperating with Fitzgerald after being told that he was identified by witnesses as a co-conspirator in the leak. Sources said Hannah was not given immunity, but was likely offered a “deal” in exchange for information that could result in indictments of key White House officials.

Now, those close to the investigation say that a second Cheney aide, David Wurmser, has agreed to provide the prosecution with evidence that the leak was a coordinated effort by Cheney’s office to discredit the agent's husband. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war.

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Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East advisor and an assistant to then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton, likely cooperated because he faced criminal charges for his role in leaking Wilson's name on the orders of higher-ups, the sources said.

According to those familiar with the case, Wurmser was in attendance at several meetings of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a little-known cabal of administration hawks that formed in August 2002 to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Those who say they have reviewed documents obtained in the probe assert that the Vice President was also present at some of the group’s meetings.

Wurmser did not return a call seeking comment.

The investigation into who leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to reporters is heating up, reaching deep into the White House and threatening to bring down key members of an administration not seen since the days of Watergate. Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, may be indicted for his alleged role in the agent's outing, as well as discrepancies in his testimony provided to the grand jury.

The sources say that Hannah and Wurmser were given orders by senior officials in Cheney’s office in June 2003 to leak Plame’s covert status and identity in an attempt to muzzle Wilson. The former ambassador had been a thorn in administration’s side since May 2003, when he began questioning claims that Iraq was an imminent threat to the U.S. and its neighbors in the Middle East.

That July, Wilson penned a New York Times op-ed calling into question the veracity of intelligence President Bush cited in his State of the Union speech six months prior that led the nation to war.

Specifically, Wilson said there was no truth to the claims that Iraq had tried to purchase yellow-cake uranium from Africa. Bush officials said Wilson’s trip was a boondoggle, and was set up by his wife, Plame Wilson, who worked at the CIA on weapons of mass destruction.

The White House Iraq group was founded by Bush chief of staff Andrew Card and operated out of the Vice President’s offices.

To spread its message that Saddam Hussein was a nuclear threat, WHIG relied heavily on New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who, after meeting with several of the organization’s members in August 2002, wrote an explosive story that many critics of the war believe laid the groundwork for military action against Iraq.

On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, Miller wrote a story for the Times quoting anonymous officials who said aluminum tubes found in Iraq were to be used as centrifuges. Her report turned out to be wrong.

Wurmser’s cooperation with Fitzgerald would certainly come as no surprise to those who have been following his career. Last year, he was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his possible role in leaking U.S. security secrets to Israel.

According to a 2004 story in the Washington Post, the FBI interviewed officials in Cheney’s office and the Pentagon, including Hannah and Wurmser, former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to determine if they were involved in leaking U.S. security secrets to Israel, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The revelation that Hannah and Wurmser have become prosecution witnesses, as well as being identified as the original sources of the leak, indicates Fitzgerald now may be looking into the motive for outing Plame and how Administration officials sought to derail a vocal critic of Iraq intelligence.

The two administration hawks were instrumental in shaping the Bush administration’s agenda with Iraq prior to 9/11.

Wurmser was the lead author of a 1996 policy paper for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It called for removing Saddam from power in Iraq as part of a broad strategy to transform the region and remove radical regimes. Eight months before 9/11, Wurmser called for joint U.S.-Israeli air strikes on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya.

Hannah and Wurmser were first named as possible suspects in the Plame leak by Wilson, Plame’s husband, in his book, The Politics of Truth.

“In fact, senior advisers close to the president may well have been clever enough to have used others to do the actual leaking, in order to keep their fingerprints off the crime,” Wilson writes.

“John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice-president’s office, have both been suggested as sources of the leak …Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without the authority from a higher level,” Wilson notes.

Today, The New York Times confirmed Hannah provided information to the prosecutor, writing, “Officials who testified or were questioned by investigators also included John Hannah, Mr. Cheney's principal deputy national security adviser.”

Second revision adds: "Wurmser... likely cooperated because he faced criminal charges for his role in leaking Wilson's name on the orders of higher-ups, the sources said."

Originally published on Wednesday October 19, 2005.

 


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