Cheney's aide revealed as source of CIA leak,00.html

  • Reporter released after naming Lewis Libby
  • Officials may face charge of obstructing justice

Julian Borger Washington
Saturday October 1, 2005
The Guardian

An investigation into a White House intelligence leak was nearing its conclusion yesterday after a New York Times reporter, jailed in July for refusing to testify, identified Vice-President Dick Cheney's leading aide as her main source.

Judith Miller was released from a prison in Virginia, where she had spent 12 weeks, and appeared in a federal court in Washington yesterday to give her account of a scandal that has been hanging over the administration for two years.

Speaking to journalists after the closed-door hearing, she said she had been permitted to testify by her source. "This was in the form of a personal letter and, most important, a telephone call to me at the jail. I concluded from this that my source genuinely wanted me to testify," she said.

Miller did not name that source in public, but lawyers in the case named Lewis Libby, the vice-president's chief of staff, as the government official she had spoken to in July 2003, about a CIA undercover agent, Valerie Plame.

Ms Plame is the wife of an administration critic, Joseph Wilson, who accused the White House of blowing her cover in retribution for his claims that the US had fabricated allegations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Mr Wilson, a former ambassador, had said he had been sent to Africa by the CIA to look for evidence of Iraqi uranium purchases and had found none, contrary to claims by the president.

The scandal threatens the White House directly. Another journalist, Time magazine's Matt Cooper, has named Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, as his source for revealing Ms Plame's identity. Rove and Libby, two of the most powerful behind-the-scenes figures in the administration, have said they revealed that Mr Wilson's wife worked in the CIA and had been instrumental in sending him on the fact-finding mission. But lawyers for both officials insist they did not break the law, as they did not provide her name, and did not know she was undercover.

Critics say identifying her as Mr Wilson's wife was tantamount to naming her.

US media reports quoted lawyers involved in the case yesterday as saying a decision on whether to press charges could come as early as next week, in the wake of Miller's testimony. The lead investigator, Patrick Fitzgerald, had said that the journalist was the main obstacle to wrapping up the case. Possible charges include the deliberate disclosure of an undercover agent's identity, perjury or obstruction of justice.

The case has cast light on the relationship between journalists and government sources, and the confidentiality of that relationship. It has also provoked scrutiny of Miller. She said yesterday she had gone to jail "to preserve the time-honoured principle" of protecting journalistic sources. But Mr Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, said his client had signed a document waiving his right to confidentiality in late 2003 and he had assured Miller's lawyer last month that the waiver had not been coerced. "Her lawyers were provided with a waiver that we said was voluntary, more than a year ago," Mr Tate told the Washington Post.

Jailing Miller in July, the judge in the case, Thomas Hogan, argued she was not defending press freedom, because the government source she "alleges she is protecting" had released her from her promise of confidentiality. Cooper, the Time magazine journalist, had agreed to testify on the strength of a similar assurance, but Miller had insisted that she wanted to hear it directly from Mr Libby. The argument over the waiver raised the question of whether she had martyred herself unnecessarily.

Facing a barrage of questions yesterday, she protested: "I testified as soon I could."

Miller's reputation had already been battered by stories she had written in the run-up to the Iraq invasion about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction. Those reports, based largely on unnamed administration and Iraqi exile sources, were later proved to be wrong, and led to intense criticism that she had been too unquestioning of, her contacts.

She never published a story about Ms Plame after her conversations with Mr Libby. The CIA agent's name was first published by a conservative columnist, Robert Novak. Novak has not been threatened with jail, and it is unclear whether he has already testified to the grand jury.

The case is coming to a climax at a time when the Bush administration is mired in scandal. Last month, one of the White House's leading budget officials, David Safavian, was arrested on perjury charges. A top Republican ally in Congress, Tom DeLay, was charged on Wednesday with violating election laws, and a Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, was yesterday reported to have agreed to plead guilty in a case involving the transfer of military secrets to pro-Israel lobbyists.