Freed reporter testifies in Valerie Plame matter

Criminal inquiry nears end with questions about Cheney's top aide

October 01, 2005|By MARK SILVA | MARK SILVA,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Two years after the White House asserted that senior administration officials had nothing to do with disclosing the name of a covert CIA agent, a criminal inquiry of that leak moved a step closer to its end yesterday with questions about the role of the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Yesterday, New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified before a grand jury after spending 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her source, finally agreeing to testify after Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, personally assured her that he voluntarily waived any confidentiality regarding conversations with her.

Libby's attorney said yesterday that Libby had not given Miller the name of the CIA agent, and also maintained that Libby is not a target of an investigation that appears to be reaching its end with the long-sought testimony of the now-freed journalist.

The investigation led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has questioned many members of the Bush administration, including the president. Karl Rove, Bush's deputy chief of staff and chief political strategist, has been identified as a reporter's source in the investigation, though his lawyer, too, asserts that Rove is not a target of the probe.

The grand jury has until Oct. 28 to return indictments if anyone is to be charged in the matter, and a lawyer close to the investigation says Fitzgerald should "be in a position to wrap up" the inquiry now that Miller has testified.

"You'll have to ask Mr. Fitzgerald why it was so important," Miller said of her testimony yesterday.

A spokesman for Fitzgerald, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on the investigation.

It is unknown whether Bush administration officials will be charged in the matter. But the probe has clouded the image of a White House dealing with an investigation into the actions of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as well as investigations of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, and charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican.

In the course of the grand jury's two-year investigation, Libby and Rove were identified as sources who aided reporters inquiring about Joseph Wilson. Wilson is a former ambassador who was asked by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium for nuclear weapons, one of the Bush administration's prewar allegations against Saddam Hussein.

Eight days after Wilson published a newspaper essay in July 2003 accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, newspaper columnist Robert Novak cited two administration sources in reporting that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA agent.

It's a federal crime to intentionally reveal the identity of a covert agent with intent to endanger national security. Wilson's supporters claim the White House revealed Plame's identity to intimidate him and to discredit him by suggesting that Plame was responsible for getting Wilson sent on the highly sensitive assignment.

Lawyers for Libby and Rove have maintained that although they spoke with reporters about Wilson and Plame, they did not name her.

But that might contradict a statement by a White House spokesman in October 2003 that neither Rove nor Libby was involved at all in the stories disclosing Plame's identity. "Those individuals assured me they were not involved," spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration," McClellan also said at the time. Since Rove was identified this year as a source for Time magazine in its coverage of the matter, Bush has drawn a narrower definition for disciplinary action, with the president promising in July that he would fire any aide who has "committed a crime."

Other reporters who named Plame in their accounts of the controversy testified about their conversations with Rove and Libby after obtaining waivers from confidentiality agreements the reporters had with their sources. But only Miller, who never wrote an article identifying Plame, went to jail for refusing to talk.

Miller finally agreed to testify this week after Libby personally assured her last week that he had waived their confidentiality agreement without any coercion by anyone, a waiver of confidentiality that Libby's lawyer says was made in writing over a year ago. Miller's attorney contacted Libby's lawyer saying that Miller wanted to hear it from Libby himself.

Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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