March 28, 2006
It may seem as though it's been moving along at a snail's pace, but the second part of the federal investigation into the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is nearly complete, with attorneys and government officials who have remained close to the probe saying that a grand jury will likely return an indictment against one or two senior Bush administration officials.
These sources work or worked at the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council. Some of these sources are attorneys close to the case. They requested anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the details of the investigation.
In lengthy interviews over the weekend and on Monday, they said that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has started to prepare the paperwork to present to the grand jury seeking an indictment against White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove or National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Although the situation remains fluid, it's possible, these sources said, that Fitzgerald may seek to indict both Rove and Hadley, charging them with perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy related to their roles in the leak of Plame Wilson's identity and their effort to cover up their involvement following a Justice Department investigation.
The sources said late Monday that it may take more than a month before Fitzgerald presents the paperwork outlining the government's case against one or both of the officials and asks the grand jury to return an indictment, because he is currently juggling quite a few high-profile criminal cases and will need to carve out time to write up the indictment and prepare the evidence.
In addition to responding to discovery requests from Libby's defense team and appearing in court with his attorneys, who are trying to obtain additional evidence, such as top-secret documents, from Fitzgerald's probe, the special prosecutor is also prosecuting Lord Conrad Black, the newspaper magnate, has recently charged numerous individuals in a child pornography ring, and is wrestling with other lawsuits in his home city of Chicago.
Details about the latest stage of the investigation began to take shape a few weeks ago when the lead FBI investigator on the leak case, John C. Eckenrode, retired from the agency and indicated to several colleagues that the investigation is about to wrap up with indictments handed up by the grand jury against Rove or Hadley or both officials, the sources said.
The Philadelphia-based Eckenrode is finished with his work on the case; however, he is expected to testify as a witness for the prosecution next year against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff who was indicted in October on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to investigators regarding his role in the leak.
Hadley and Rove remain under intense scrutiny, but sources said Fitzgerald has not yet decided whether to seek charges against one or both of them.
Libby and other officials in Cheney's office used the information they obtained about Plame Wilson to undermine the credibility of her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson was an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. He had alleged that President Bush misspoke when he said, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, that Iraq had tried to acquire yellow-cake uranium, the key component used to build a nuclear bomb, from Niger.
The uranium claim was the silver bullet in getting Congress to support military action two months later. To date, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and the country barely had a functional weapons program, according to a report from the Iraq Survey Group.
Wilson had traveled to Niger more than a year earlier to investigate the yellow-cake claims and reported back to the CIA that intelligence reports saying Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger were false.
On Monday, though, attorneys close to the leak case confirmed that Fitzgerald had met with the grand jury half a dozen times since January and recently told the jurors that he planned to present them with the government's case against Rove or Hadley, which stems from an email Rove had sent to Hadley in July of 2003 indicating that he had a conversation about Plame Wilson with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
Neither Hadley nor Rove disclosed the existence of the email when they were questioned by FBI investigators or when they testified before a grand jury, the sources said, adding that Rove testified he found out about Plame Wilson from reporters and Hadley testified that he recalled learning about Plame Wilson when her name was published in a newspaper column.
Rove testified before the grand jury four times. He did not disclose the existence of the email during two of the times he testified, claiming he simply forgot about it because he was enmeshed with the 2004 Presidential election, traveling around the country attending fundraisers and meetings, working more than 15 hours a day on the campaign, and just forgot that he spoke with Cooper three months earlier, sources familiar with his testimony said.
But Rove and Libby had been the subject of dozens of news stories about the possibility that they played a role in the leak, and had faced dozens of questions as early as August 2003 - one month after Plame Wilson was outed - about whether they were the administration officials responsible for leaking her identity.
The story Rove and his attorney, Robert Luskin, provided to Fitzgerald in order to explain why Rove did not disclose the existence of the email is "less than satisfactory and entirely unconvincing to the special counsel," one of the attorneys close to the case said.
Luskin did not return numerous calls for comment. A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation and has vehemently denied that Hadley was involved in the leak "because Mr. Hadley told us he wasn't involved."
In December, Luskin made a desperate attempt to keep his client out of Fitzgerald's crosshairs.
Luskin had revealed to Fitzgerald that Viveca Novak - a reporter working for Time magazine who wrote several stories about the Plame Wilson case - inadvertently tipped him off in early 2004 that her colleague at the magazine, Matt Cooper, would be forced to testify that Rove was his source who told him about Plame Wilson's CIA status.
Novak - who bears no relation to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who first published Plame Wilson's name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003, column - met Luskin in Washington DC in 2004, and over drinks, the two discussed Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame Wilson leak.
Luskin had assured Novak that Rove learned Plame Wilson's name and CIA status after it was published in news accounts and that only then did he phone other journalists to draw their attention to it. But Novak told Luskin that everyone in the Time newsroom knew Rove was Cooper's source and that he would testify to that in an upcoming grand jury appearance, these sources said.
According to Luskin's account, after he met with Viveca Novak he contacted Rove and told him about his conversation with her. The two of them then began an exhaustive search through White House phone logs and emails for any evidence that proved that Rove had spoken with Cooper. Luskin said that during this search an email was found that Rove had sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley immediately after Rove's conversation with Cooper, and it was subsequently turned over to Fitzgerald.
"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in the email to Hadley immediately following his conversation with Cooper on July 11, 2003. "Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming. When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."
Luskin wound up becoming a witness in the case and testified about his conversation with Viveca Novak that Luskin said would prove his client didn't knowingly lie to FBI investigators when he was questioned about the leak in October 2003, just three months after Rove told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
The email Rove sent to Hadley, which Luskin said he found, helped Rove recall his conversation with Cooper a year earlier. Rove then returned to the grand jury to clarify his previous testimonies in which he did not disclose that he spoke with journalists.
Still, Rove's account of his conversation with Cooper went nothing like he had described in his email to Hadley, according to an email Cooper sent to his editor at Time magazine following his conversation with Rove in July 2003.
"It was, KR said, [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized [Wilson's] trip," Cooper's July 11, 2003, email to his editor said. "Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The email characterizing the conversation continues: "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger... "
It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told their staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson's Niger claims.
But Fitzgerald's investigation has turned up additional evidence over the past few months that convinced him that Luskin's eleventh-hour revelation about the chain of events that led to the discovery of the email is not credible. Fitzgerald believes that Rove changed his story once it became clear that Cooper would be compelled to testify about the source - Rove - who revealed Plame Wilson's CIA status to him, sources close to the case said.
Jason Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books. spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation. Visit Leopold's website at www.jasonleopold.com for updates. Jason Leopold is the author of the forthcoming book NEWS JUNKIE, to be published in April 2006. Visit http://www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.