CIA leak case not closed

No final report yet

prosecutor heightens expectations of indictments

October 19, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The special counsel in the CIA leak case has told associates that he has no plans to issue a final report about the results of the investigation, heightening the expectation that he intends to bring indictments, according to lawyers in the case and law enforcement officials.

The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, is not expected to take any action in the case this week, according to government officials. A spokesman for Fitzgerald, Randall Samborn, declined to comment.

A final report had long been considered an option for Fitzgerald if he decided not to accuse anyone of wrongdoing. By signaling that he has no plans to issue the grand jury's findings in such detail, he appeared to narrow his options either to indictments or closing his investigation with no public disclosure of his findings, a choice that would no doubt set off a political firestorm.

With the term of the grand jury expiring Oct. 28, lawyers involved in the case said they assume Fitzgerald is in the final stages of his inquiry.

The focus of Fitzgerald's inquiry has remained fixed on two senior White House aides, Karl Rove, who is President Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., who is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Both had conversations with reporters about the CIA officer whose name was later publicly disclosed.

It is not clear who else might be in Fitzgerald's sights, and in particular whether he has learned who first identified the CIA officer, Valerie Wilson, to the syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak in July 2003.

Some of the lawyers involved in the case say Fitzgerald seems still to be wrestling with decisions about how to proceed, leaning toward indictments, but continuing to weigh the thousands of pages of documents and testimony he has compiled during the nearly two-year long inquiry.

Recently, Fitzgerald has repeatedly told lawyers in the case that he has not made up his mind about criminal charges - even though most lawyers now believe that indictments are increasingly likely against one or more people.

Fitzgerald has been investigating whether administration officials deliberately disclosed Wilson's identity - she is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame - in response to criticism by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, of the administration's use of intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs before the invasion of Iraq.

Some lawyers in the case had expressed hope that a final report would provide Fitzgerald with a vehicle to disclose his investigative findings even if he absolved anyone of wrongdoing.

Democrats in Congress had also expressed a desire for such a report, apparently hoping it would offer fresh details about the administration's actions.

Any decision will be announced in Washington and not in Chicago, where Fitzgerald is the U.S. attorney, Justice Department officials said.

In his daily news briefing yesterday, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said that a successful completion to the inquiry would be one in which Fitzgerald would "determine the facts and then outline those facts for the American people."

Asked in an interview later if that meant the White House would favor a public report if there were no indictments, McClellan said the decision was Fitzgerald's, but that "we would all like to know what the facts are."

Given the tremendous political ramifications attached to Fitzgerald's decisions about seeking indictments, officials at the White House have begun informally discussing what would happen if Rove were to be indicted.

Among the names being discussed to take some of Rove's responsibilities should he have to step aside, one outside adviser to the White House said, are Dan Bartlett, currently Bush's counselor; Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Robert M. Kimmitt, the deputy Treasury secretary.

Under regulations in effect at the Justice Department, it is not clear whether Fitzgerald has the authority to issue a final report, even if he wanted to, although the prosecutor has operated under a broad delegation of authority, issued in a pair of letters by James B. Comey, the former deputy attorney general.

Those directives gave Fitzgerald virtually the same power as the attorney general to conduct criminal inquiries.

But even the attorney general is restricted in what information he can release publicly or present to Congress when it has been obtained, as Fitzgerald has gathered it, through extensive use of a grand jury, whose proceedings are secret.

Even so, some lawyers have argued that Fitzgerald could issue such a report and said there is general authority to report his findings if Congress requests it.

Without a report, it seems likely that questions about the case may remain unanswered and that a complete account of the administration's activities might never be known, including the details of testimony by the scores of administration officials who were interviewed in the inquiry.

The likelihood that key details might be kept secret would be increased if Fitzgerald brought charges that are narrowly focused on perjury, false statement or obstruction of justice counts which involving specific misstatements by officials in their testimony.

But he has also examined broader potential violations, among them whether there was an illegal effort, directed by senior officials, to disclose Wilson's identity.

The officials who testified or were questioned by investigators included a substantial number who work for Cheney or have ties to his office. Beyond Libby, they include John Hannah, the vice president's principal deputy national security adviser.

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