The New York Times throws some fresh fuel on the Plame investigation.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 – I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.
Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.
The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration’s handling of intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program to justify the war.
Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.
Mr. Libby’s notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson’s undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.The article goes on to identify areas of difficulty Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may face if he brings indictments against Libby or Rove (or even Cheney). The Tenet connection is intriguing – especially for any defense attorney – because if the CIA was the source and the original complainant that could put them in a pretty awkward position.
The more interesting question is where the information The Times reported came from? Fitzgerald’s office has, commendably, been tight as a drum, so the likely providers of the information are lawyers for one or more of the prime targets. The question is which one? Rove, The White House, Cheney, Libby…? The information would seem to favor Rove by shifting additional focus to Libby, so it’s not inconceivable that Libby is being (proverbially) thrown under the bus.
At this point, given the limited set of information available, the most likely outcome for Fitzgerald’s investigation is that a single set of indictments will be issued against Libby for obstruction of justice (with perhaps a few other sundry charges added for good measure). Of course there also could be mountains of indictments, or none at all – only Fitzgerald knows what the evidence he’s collected indicates.
By all accounts Fitzgerald wouldn’t exactly be indicting a ham sandwich but, if previous history (See former Clinton Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros from earlier this week) of indictments of government officials is any indication, getting a conviction isn’t going to be easy. That’s probably the best explanation for why Fitzgerald was quoted nearly a year ago as indicating that the investigation was essentially over. My bet is that at that time he would have wrapped up the investigation without issuing an indictment.
In that time Fitzgerald has presumably gathered more evidence from grand jury testimony, but his case(s) most likely revolve around whether he can prove perjury or obstruction related to that testimony – not to the actual outing of Plame.