The evidence prosecutors have assembled in the CIA leak case suggests Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff sought out reporters in the weeks before an undercover operative’s identity was compromised in the news media, casting doubt on one of the White House’s main lines of defense.
For months, the White House and its supporters have argued top presidential aides did not knowingly expose Valerie Plame, the wife of administration critic Joseph Wilson, as a CIA operative.
At most, the aides passed on information about her that entered the White House from reporters, the supporters argued.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald now knows that Libby met three times with a New York Times reporter before the leak of Plame’s identity, initiated a call to NBC’s Tim Russert and was a confirming source about Wilson’s wife for a Time magazine reporter.
Rove’s source may have been Libby
And in a new twist, presidential political adviser Karl Rove has testified that it’s possible Libby was his source before Rove talked to two reporters about the CIA operative.
In light of all the disclosures, “it’s going to be as difficult for the defense to prove the theory that the White House got the information from reporters as it is for Fitzgerald to prove that the White House leaked the information about Wilson’s wife,” said Washington-based white-collar defense attorney James D. Wareham.
Where Libby first heard the information still isn’t publicly known, but a full three weeks before Plame’s name first showed up in print, Libby was telling New York Times reporter Judith Miller that he thought Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, according to Miller’s testimony.
While Libby maintains that he didn’t know Plame’s name until it was published in the news media, the now-public evidence suggests Libby at least was aware that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and that he spread the information.
Prosecutors must determine whether it was part of an effort to undermine the credibility of Plame’s husband who was criticizing the White House.
Challenging ‘the news media did it’ notion
Until this week, “the news media did it” was a standard defense among Republicans trying to protect the Bush administration from the political fallout of Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation. Loyalists said that even if White House aides had passed on information, they didn’t get it from classified sources and were simply repeating what they heard from journalists.
As new evidence accumulates on the public record, Libby’s original source of information and how he passed the information on are becoming crucial unanswered questions. The public still doesn’t know much about what the vice president and his top aide talked about, either.
In grand jury testimony shown to Rove, Libby said he had told Rove about information he had gotten about Wilson’s wife from Russert, according to a person directly familiar with the information.
Prosecutors, however, have a different account from Russert. The TV network has said Russert told authorities he did not know about Wilson’s wife’s identity until it was published and therefore could not have told Libby about it. Russert also says that it was Libby who initiated the contact with him.
In Miller’s case, the reporter was interviewing Libby on June 23, 2003, for a story on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when the vice president’s chief of staff suggested a CIA tie for Wilson’s wife, Miller has said.
“This was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson’s wife might work for the CIA,” Miller wrote in a first-person account over the weekend. Miller said this week that she never wrote a story about Wilson’s wife because “it wasn’t that important to me. I was focused on the main question: Was our WMD intelligence slanted?”