The prosecutor in the CIA leak probe repeatedly asked New York Times reporter Judith Miller how Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff handled classified information in their discussions, and even asked whether Cheney knew of their conversations.
In a first-person account released Saturday on The Times’ Web site, Miller recounted her recent grand jury testimony, which focused on her conversations in 2003 with Cheney’s closest aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating whether crimes were committed when Bush administration officials leaked the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters. Plame’s covert status was exposed at a time when her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was criticizing the Bush administration, accusing it of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
“My interview notes show that Mr. Libby sought from the beginning, before Mr. Wilson’s name became public, to insulate his boss from Mr. Wilson’s charges,” Miller wrote.
She said that in her recent testimony, Fitzgerald “asked me questions about Mr. Cheney. He asked, for example, if Mr. Libby ever indicated whether Mr. Cheney had approved of his interviews with me or was aware of them. The answer was no.”
Miller also wrote: “Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believe so, but could not be sure.”
The reporter said Fitzgerald asked “how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, ‘Very carefully.”’
Fitzgerald is wrapping up his investigation and is expected to decide soon whether to seek indictments. The grand jury that has been hunting down the leakers inside the Bush administration over the past two years expires Oct. 28. President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, testified to the panel Friday, his fourth appearance. Prosecutors warned Rove before he appeared that there was no guarantee he won’t be indicted.
Rove spoke to columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame’s identity, while Libby spoke to Miller and Cooper about Plame.
Notes contain name ‘Valerie Flame’
The Times reported that the same notebook Miller used to record her conversations with Libby in 2003 contains the name “Valerie Flame” — a misspelled reference to the covert CIA officer.
Fitzgerald asked Miller to explain how Valerie Plame appeared in the same notebook the reporter used in interviewing her confidential source, Libby. Miller replied that she “didn’t think” she heard Plame’s name from Libby.
“I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall,” Miller wrote.
Miller and Libby met for breakfast at a hotel near the White House on July 8, 2003, two days after The Times published an opinion piece by Wilson criticizing the Bush administration.
The notebook Miller used for that interview includes the reference to “Valerie Flame.” But Miller said that name did not appear in the same portion of her notebook as the interview notes from Libby.
At the breakfast, Libby provided a detail about Wilson’s wife, saying she worked in a CIA unit known as Winpac. The name stands for weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control. Miller said she understood this to mean that Wilson’s wife was an analyst rather than an undercover operative.
Another variant on Plame’s name — “Victoria Wilson” — appears in Miller’s notes of a July 12, 2003, phone call with Libby. The newspaper’s account Saturday says that by the time of that phone call, Miller had called other sources about Wilson’s wife.
Pressure applied while in jail?
Miller spent 85 days in a federal jail in Virginia for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald’s investigation. She relented when she received a personal waiver of confidentiality in September from her source. Miller then testified before the grand jury in late September and this month.
Fitzgerald questioned Miller about a letter that Libby sent her while she was in jail. Libby assured her that he wanted her to testify, but the letter also said “the public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me.”
Miller said she told Fitzgerald in her sworn testimony that the letter could be perceived as an effort by Libby “to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame’s identity.” But she added, “My notes suggested that we had discussed her job.”
Miller’s first-person account is a window into the bad relations between the White House and the CIA in 2003 stemming from the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. Miller at the time was speaking to Libby after being assigned to write a story about the failure to find them. A number of Miller’s prewar stories bolstered the Bush administration’s argument for going to war by citing intelligence that Saddam Hussein had such weapons.
Miller said that in her grand jury appearances on Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, she recalled Libby’s frustrations and anger in 2003 over what Libby called “selective leaking” by the CIA and other agencies. Libby, she said, accused the intelligence agencies of trying to distance themselves from what he recalled as unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.