WASHINGTON — In the latest fallout from the CIA leak investigation, reporter Judith Miller and The New York Times are engaging in a very public fight about her seeming lack of candor in the case.
In an e-mail memo Friday to the newspaper’s staff , Executive Editor Bill Keller said Miller “seems to have misled” the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, who said Miller told him in the fall of 2003 that she was not one of the recipients of a leak about the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Miller says Keller’s criticism is “seriously inaccurate.”
“I certainly never meant to mislead Phil, nor did I mislead him,” Miller was quoted as saying in a Times story Saturday.
According to a Times story on Oct. 16, Miller told Taubman two years ago that the subject of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson and Wilson’s wife, Plame, had come up in casual conversation with government officials, but that Miller said “she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information.”
In recent weeks, Miller testified to the grand jury in the leak probe that she had discussed Wilson and his wife in three conversations with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in June and July of 2003.
Keller wrote that if he had known of Miller’s “entanglement” with Libby, he might have been more willing to explore compromises with the prosecutor who was trying to get her testimony for the criminal investigation into the leak of Plame’s identity.
Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. She was freed on Sept. 29 when she finally agreed to testify.
Responding to Keller’s criticism, Miller told the newspaper, “I was unaware that there was a deliberate, concerted disinformation campaign to discredit Wilson and that if there had been, I did not think I was a target of it.”
“As for your reference to my ‘entanglement’ with Mr. Libby, I had no personal, social or other relationship with him except as a source,” Miller said.
Miller’s attorney, Bob Bennett, told The Washington Post that it was “absolutely false” to suggest she withheld information about a June 2003 meeting with Libby, saying the conversation hadn’t seemed like “a big deal at the time.”
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Responding to Keller’s memo, Bennett said: “I am very concerned now that there are people trying to even old scores and undercut her as a heroic journalist.”
Bennett did not return calls by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Prosecutor may be preparing indictments
The criticism of the reporter came amid a sign that the prosecutor may be preparing indictments. Fitzgerald’s office set up a Web site containing the record of the broad investigative mandate handed to him by the Justice Department at the outset of his investigation two years ago.
Unlike some of his predecessors who operated under a law that has since expired, Fitzgerald does not need to write a final report, so he would not need a Web site for that purpose.
The criticism of Miller emerged amid new details about how she belatedly turned over notes of a June 23, 2003, conversation she had with Libby.
In her first grand jury appearance Sept. 30 after being freed from prison for refusing to testify, Miller did not mention the meeting.
She retrieved her notes about it only when prosecutors showed her White House visitor logs showing she had met with Libby in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, said two lawyers, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing secrecy of the grand jury probe.
One lawyer familiar with Miller’s testimony said the reporter told prosecutors at first that she did not believe the June meeting would have involved Plame because she had just returned from covering the Iraq war. She said she was probably giving Libby an update of her experiences there, the lawyer said.
However, in reviewing her notes, Miller discovered they indicated that Libby had given her information about Plame at that meeting. Fitzgerald then arranged for her to return to the grand jury to testify about it, the lawyers said.
The evidence of that meeting has become important to the investigation because it indicates that Libby was passing information to reporters about Plame well before her husband went public with accusations that the Bush administration had twisted pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
Libby and Bush political adviser Karl Rove have emerged as central figures in the probe because both had contacts with reporter who ultimately disclosed Plame’s identity in news stories.
Conflicts between presidential aides’ testimony and other evidence could result in criminal charges. The grand jury investigating the matter for the last two years is set to expire next Friday.
Flawed intelligence, flawed reporting
Contributing to tensions at the Times over the leak probe is Miller’s own flawed prewar reporting on Iraq.
Her stories pointing to the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq helped clear a path for the administration’s arguments in favor of going to war. No weapons of mass destruction have been found, and Keller said he regretted waiting a year before confronting problems with Miller’s reporting.
In his memo, Keller wrote that the newspaper in the summer of 2003 had just been through the trauma of the Jayson Blair episode, in which a reporter was found to have fabricated articles, resulting in the departure of the Times’ executive editor and managing editor.
“It felt somehow unsavory to begin a tenure by attacking our predecessors,” Keller wrote. By waiting more than a year, he said, “We allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse, we fear, we fostered an impression that the Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers.”
Criticism from within
Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd weighed in with further criticism in Saturday’s Times. “Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, (Miller) was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers,” Dowd wrote.
If Miller returns to covering national security issues, Dowd wrote, “the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.”
In a column written for Sunday’s editions of The Times, public editor Byron Calame wrote, “It seems to me that whatever the limits put on her, the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter.”
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