2 Bush aides testify in leak probe

Prosecutors question current press secretary

February 10, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - President Bush's press secretary and a former White House press aide testified yesterday before a federal grand jury investigating who improperly disclosed the identity of a CIA agent, the press secretary and a lawyer for the aide said yesterday.

The appearances of the press secretary, Scott McClellan, and the press aide, Adam Levine, reflected what lawyers in the case said was the quickening pace of a criminal inquiry in which a special prosecutor is examining conversations between journalists and the White House.

When he was asked by reporters yesterday whether he had been questioned in the case, McClellan said he had. Yesterday, a lawyer for Levine said that the White House aide had also appeared on Friday.

Levine left the Bush administration in December after working as the principal liaison between the White House and the television networks.

In addition to the grand jury appearances, which are believed to include other Bush administration officials, prosecutors have conducted a series of meetings that lawyers involved in the case have described as tense and sometimes combative at an office used by counterespionage prosecutors several blocks from the Justice Department.

Armed with handwritten White House notes, detailed cellular phone logs and copies of e-mails between presidential aides and reporters, prosecutors have demanded explanations of conversations between White House aides and reporters for some of the country's largest news organizations.

One set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser. Prosecutors have described the notes as "copious," the lawyers said. In addition, the prosecutors have asked about cell phone calls made last July to and from Catherine J. Martin, a press secretary for Cheney.

In their discussions with White House aides, prosecutors have been careful to avoid signaling their overall theory of the case. Nor have they given any hints about who in the White House they suspect disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA undercover agent, to Robert Novak, who wrote in a column last July revealing that Plame was the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

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