Video: Understanding espionage

msnbc.com
updated 10/20/2005 10:07:39 AM ET 2005-10-20T14:07:39

For the president's top advisor Karl Rove and others at the White House, it was another kick in the gut.  They woke up this morning to a front page story in The New York Times that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not going to end the investigation with a report.

Legal analysts believe it means Fitzgerald will likely present his evidence through criminal indictments.

Lawyers familiar with the investigation say Rove and Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter Libby are vulnerable because of rolling disclosures and inconsistencies in grand jury testimony.

"The premise is that people called to testify under oath will give the information they have correctly and accurately,” said Stan Brand, former federal prosecutor.  “Without that, there is no way to investigate anything." 

Another option for Fitzgerald may be the seldom-used Espionage Act.  The statute makes it a crime to transmit secret information to people not entitled to see it, like reporters.

Under the statute, prosecutors would only have to show officials knew the information leaked was secret, with "secret" being defined as something whose “disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause...significant impairment of a program or policy directly related to the national security."

Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative who specialized in weapons of mass destruction and worked overseas.

Intelligence experts say that when her cover was blown as part of an effort to discredit her husband, there was significant impairment to the CIA and the U.S. policy of trying to track weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, The New York Daily News reported today that President Bush angrily rebuked Karl Rove two years ago for having Rove's name mentioned as a suspect in the leak case.  The paper quotes someone it identified as a presidential counselor as saying, "He made his life miserable about this."

While the president wouldn't respond, Press Secretary Scott Mclellan, off-camera told reporters he viewed the story as inaccurate.  But Mclellan refused to elaborate.

Legal experts point out that if President Bush knew two years ago that Rove was involved, that could put a new focus on what the president told investigators months later.

As it stands, Vice President Cheney's office appears to be the main focus for the grand jury.   Several Cheney aides have given testimony in the investigation, including Scooter Libby and Libby's top deputy on national security issues, John Hannah.

Hannah and other Cheney aides refused to return phone calls about their cooperation.  Lawyers say there is every indication that prosecutors have a star White House witness.  In any case, the grand jury is scheduled to meet again on Friday.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,