CIA leak prosecutor asked about any Cheney role

By Adam Entous Sat Oct 15,11:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor questioned New York Times reporter Judith Miller about whether Vice President Dick Cheney himself was aware or authorized her discussions with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, about a covert CIA operative, Miller said on Saturday.

Miller also disclosed for the first time that the notebook she used for an interview with Libby in July 2003 contained the name "Valerie Flame," a clear reference to Valerie Plame, the covert operative whose outing triggered a sweeping criminal investigation that has shaken the Bush administration.

Miller told federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who could bring indictments as early as next week, that she did not think Libby was the source of the "Valerie Flame" reference in her notebook but that she could not recall who gave her that information.

Plame's diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, asserts that White House officials outed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.

Viewed by some as a martyr for press freedom, Miller has faced criticism for some of her prewar news reports on Iraq's alleged weapons programs. Critics say those reports helped boost the administration's case that Iraq posed a threat. No weapons of mass destruction were found.

While Fitzgerald could bring charges against administration officials for the crime of knowingly revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative, several lawyers involved in the case said he was more likely to bring conspiracy charges or easier-to-prove charges such as making false statements or perjury.

Libby and President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, are among those who could face charges for talking to reporters about Plame, the lawyers say.

But Miller's account of her testimony to the grand jury suggests Fitzgerald is not only interested in Libby's role in the leak, but also in learning whether he received any direction from Cheney.

During her testimony to the grand jury, Fitzgerald asked whether Cheney was aware of what Libby was doing and saying. Fitzgerald also asked her "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 wrote.

Fitzgerald also questioned Miller about whether a letter she received in jail from Libby last month might have been an attempt to shape her testimony to the grand jury.

In that letter, Libby said Miller should testify about their conversations, but noted that the other reporters who have done so have made clear "they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

Miller said that surprised her "because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity."

"Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job," said Miller, who spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify about her conversations with Libby.

She said her notes, however, "do not show that Mr. Libby identified Mr. Wilson's wife by name. Nor do they show that he described Valerie Wilson as a covert agent or 'operative."'

In Miller's personal account of her role in the case, she wrote that Wilson became "a focus of significant scrutiny" at the highest levels of the Bush administration well before he went public with his criticisms on July 6.

Starting with a June 23, 2003 meeting, Libby was already defending Cheney, seeking to "insulate his boss" from Wilson's charges and his CIA-sponsored mission in 2002 to Niger to investigate whether Iraq sought uranium there, Miller wrote.

In that June meeting, Libby raised the subject of Wilson's wife for the first time, and Miller wrote in her notes that she might work for the CIA.

Miller and Libby met again on July 8 -- at the St. Regis Hotel near the White House -- and she learned that Wilson's wife worked in a CIA unit known as WINPAC -- weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control.

The notebook she used that day also included the reference to "Valerie Flame," which Miller said was "clearly a reference to Ms. Plame."

"Mr. Fitzgerald wanted to know whether the entry was based on my conversations with Mr. Libby. I said I didn't think so. I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall," Miller wrote.

After Miller spoke by phone with Libby on July 12, 2003, her notes included the name "Victoria Wilson."

Two days later, on July 14, columnist Robert Novak publicly identified Wilson's wife as Valerie Plame, an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

The New York Times report also sheds new light on why Miller refused to testify after Libby offered an earlier waiver of confidentiality.

According to the Times, Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, told Miller's attorney about Libby's grand jury testimony: that he had not told Miller the name or undercover status of Wilson's wife.

Miller told the Times she concluded that Tate was sending her a message that Libby did not want her to testify without an assurance that Miller would exonerate his client.

Tate called Miller's interpretation "outrageous."