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Anatomy of the CIA leak

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald gave a rare look inside how Washington works on Friday, describing the anatomy of a leak. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

On Friday, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald gave a rare look inside how Washington works, describing the anatomy of a leak.

It began as a classic case of White House damage control.

May 29, 2003: Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, allegedly asks the State Department for information about a news report that the CIA had sent a secret envoy to Africa to check out intelligence cited by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address, when he said, “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

The envoy, Libby quickly learns, was former Ambassador Joe Wilson. According to the indictment, Libby then sets out to collect more information.

June 9: Classified CIA documents on Wilson's trip are sent to Libby's office.

June 11: Two government officials tell Libby that Wilson's wife works for the CIA and is believed responsible for sending him on the trip.

The next day, the vice president himself tells Libby that Valerie Plame works in the CIA's counter-proliferation division.

June 23: The leaking begins when Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller that Wilson's wife might work for the CIA.

“Mr. Libby,” detailed Fitzgerald on Friday, “was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.”

July 6: Joe Wilson publishes an article in the New York Times challenging the administration's credibility.

The next day, the indictment says, the leaking intensifies. Libby tells White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and again talks to Miller and later Matt Cooper of Time magazine. He also calls NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, but doesn't mention Plame.

July 10: Libby talks to an unnamed senior White House official, whom Washington insiders say is Karl Rove. This official tells Libby that columnist Robert Novak plans to write a story about Wilson's wife and the CIA.

“From time immemorial,” says presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Washington officials have tried to use reporters to get the information out in the exact way they want to and to discredit the opposition.”

There are still tantalizing questions. Was the vice president involved in a conversation aboard Air Force 2 about what to tell a reporter about Plame? And, most of all, who is ultimately to blame for the leak that blew Plame's cover?