Leak prosecutor to call new grand jury


WASHINGTON -- The prosecutor investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity disclosed yesterday that he will enlist a different grand jury than the one that indicted the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney last month.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in filings in federal District Court that "the investigation is continuing" but did not elaborate on the need for a new grand jury. He also argued that that much of the evidence in the inquiry should be withheld from news organizations.

The term of the grand jury that indicted Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. expired Oct. 31.

The revelation that a new grand jury will hear information in the case comes four days after Washington Post reporter and editor Bob Woodward met with Fitzgerald to disclose that a "senior administration official" told him about the CIA officer in mid-June 2003.

That would apparently make Woodward the first journalist to be told by an administration official that the wife of administration critic Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA.

Fitzgerald is investigating whether administration officials leaked the name of the CIA agent, Valerie Plame, to reporters in a bid to discredit Wilson. It is against federal law to knowingly divulge the identity of undercover intelligence officers.

The use of a new grand jury could indicate that additional evidence or charges are coming. But experienced federal prosecutors cautioned against reading too much into Fitzgerald's disclosure.

"It could just mean that the prosecutor needs the powers of the grand jury ... to further his investigation and make a final determination whether to charge," said Dan French, a former federal prosecutor now representing a witness in the CIA inquiry.

"One of the greatest powers of the grand jury is the ability to subpoena witnesses ... and he may want that authority to pursue additional questions," French said. He might also need subpoenas to obtain documents, telephone records and executive branch agency security logs.

When Fitzgerald announced the Libby indictment, he said Libby appeared to be the first administration official to talk with reporters about Wilson's wife. He did not charge Libby in connection with releasing the undercover CIA officer's name, but rather with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Libby pleaded not guilty.

At that time, Fitzgerald told reporters that his investigation was nearly complete. However, he told attorneys for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that their client remained under scrutiny. A source close to Rove said that "there is no indication that Fitzgerald's actions" yesterday had anything to do with Rove.

A grand jury cannot be used to further investigate existing charges, so it is unlikely that the new material that Fitzgerald seeks concerns Libby.

Fitzgerald appeared in District Court yesterday to make the case that much of the evidence should be withheld from the public. He initially sought a far-reaching protective order that would have prevented Libby's lawyers from releasing any material obtained by the prosecutor. That broad order was contested in court by Dow Jones & Co. and the Associated Press.

But in his court filing yesterday, Fitzgerald appeared to suggest a compromise that would allow some documents that did not invade an individual's privacy or divulge classified information to be released by Libby's team if it wishes.

Wilson had been dispatched to Africa by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq sought enriched uranium from Niger. He found little evidence to support the claim and went public in mid-2003 with complaints that the administration had "twisted intelligence" to make the case for war in Iraq.

A week later, his wife's name appeared in a column by Robert Novak suggesting that she had played a role in sending her husband to Africa. Since then, it has become clear that more than one administration official talked with reporters about Wilson's wife as a way of discrediting the seriousness of Wilson's trip and his findings.

Tom Hamburger writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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