View Full Version : Cover-Up Issue I Seen As Focus In Leak Inquiry

10-21-2005, 08:34 AM
Cover-Up Issue Is Seen as Focus in Leak Inquiry


Published: October 21, 2005

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - As he weighs whether to bring criminal charges in the C.I.A. leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, is focusing on whether Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

Among the charges that Mr. Fitzgerald is considering are perjury, obstruction of justice and false statement - counts that suggest the prosecutor may believe the evidence presented in a 22-month grand jury inquiry shows that the two White House aides sought to cover up their actions, the lawyers said.

Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy, the lawyers said, but only this week has Mr. Fitzgerald begun to narrow the possible charges. The prosecutor has said he will not make up his mind about any charges until next week, government officials say.

With the term of the grand jury expiring in one week, though, some lawyers in the case said they were persuaded that Mr. Fitzgerald had all but made up his mind to seek indictments. None of the lawyers would speak on the record, citing the prosecutor's requests not to talk about the case.

Associates of Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby continued to express hope that the prosecutor would conclude that the evidence was too fragmentary and that it would be difficult to prove Mr. Rove or Mr. Libby had a clear-cut intention to misinform the grand jury. Lawyers for the two men declined to comment on their legal status.

The case has cast a cloud over the White House, as has the Congressional criticism over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers. On Thursday, responding to a reporter's question, Mr. Bush said: "There's some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining. But the American people expect me to do my job, and I'm going to."

The possible violations under consideration by Mr. Fitzgerald are peripheral to the issue he was appointed in December 2003 to investigate: whether anyone in the administration broke a federal law that makes it a crime, under certain circumstances, to reveal the identity of a covert intelligence officer.

But Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby may not be the only people at risk. There may be others in the government who could be charged for violations of the disclosure law or of other statutes, like the espionage act, which makes it a crime to transmit classified information to people not authorized to receive it.

It is still not publicly known who first told the columnist Robert D. Novak the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson. Mr. Novak identified her in a column on July 14, 2003, using her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald knows the identity of this source, a person who is not believed to work at the White House, the lawyers said.

The accounts given by Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby about their conversations with reporters have been under investigation almost from the start. According to lawyers in the case, the prosecutor has examined how each man learned of Ms. Wilson, and questioned them in grand jury appearances about their conversations with reporters, how they learned Ms. Wilson's name and her C.I.A. employment and whether the discussions were part of an effort to undermine the credibility of her husband, a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Mr. Wilson had become an irritant to the administration in the late spring and early summer of 2003 even before he went public as a critic of the war in Iraq by writing a July 6, 2003 Op-Ed article in The New York Times.

In that article he wrote that he had traveled to Africa in 2002 to explore the accuracy of intelligence reports that suggested Iraq might have tried to purchase uranium ore from Niger. Mr. Wilson said that he had been sent on the trip by the C.I.A. after Mr. Cheney's office raised questions about one such report, but that he found it unlikely that any sale had taken place.

In Mr. Rove's case, the prosecutor appears to have focused on two conversations with reporters. The first was a July 9, 2003, discussion with Mr. Novak in which, Mr. Rove has said, he first heard Ms. Wilson's name. The second conversation took place on July 11, 2003 with a Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper, who later wrote that Mr. Rove had not named Ms. Wilson but had told him that she worked at the C.I.A. and that she had been responsible for her husband being sent to Africa.

Mr. Rove did not tell the grand jury about his phone conversation with Mr. Cooper until months into the leak investigation, long after he had testified about his conversation with Mr. Novak, the lawyers said. Later, Mr. Rove said he had not recalled the conversation with Mr. Cooper until the discovery of an e-mail message about it that he sent to Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser. But Mr. Fitzgerald has remained skeptical about the omission, the lawyers said.

In Mr. Libby's case, Mr. Fitzgerald has focused on his statements about how he first learned of Ms. Wilson's identity, the lawyers said. Mr. Libby has said that he learned of Ms. Wilson from reporters. But Mr. Fitzgerald may have doubts about his account because the journalists who have been publicly identified as having talked to Mr. Libby have said that they did not provide the name, that they could not recall what had been said or that they had discussed unrelated subjects.