Lawyers in CIA-leak case say charges possible this week

By Adam Entous
Sun Oct 23, 2005 12:16 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald appears to be laying the groundwork for indictments this week over the outing of a covert CIA operative, including possible charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, lawyers involved in case said on Sunday.

Top administration officials are expected to learn from Fitzgerald as early as Monday whether they will face charges as the prosecutor winds up his nearly two-year investigation, the lawyers said.

Fitzgerald could convene the grand jury as early as Tuesday to lay out a final summary of the case and ask for approval of possible indictments, legal sources said. The grand jury hearing the CIA leak case normally meets on Wednesdays and is scheduled to expire on Friday unless Fitzgerald extends it.

Fitzgerald's investigation has focused largely on Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser, and Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and their conversations about CIA operative Valerie Plame with reporters in June and July of 2003.

Her identity was leaked to the media after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, challenged the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq. The White House initially denied that Rove and Libby were involved in any way in the leak.

Asked whether he was taking part in a final round of discussions with the prosecutor's office, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said: "I'm just not going to comment on any possible interactions with Fitzgerald."

Lawyers involved in the case said Fitzgerald has been focusing on whether Rove, Libby and others may have tried to conceal their involvement from investigators. New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail rather than testify about talks with Libby, is facing calls from colleagues to leave the newspaper.

While Fitzgerald could still charge administration officials with knowingly revealing Plame's identity, the lawyers said he appeared more likely to seek charges for easier-to-prove crimes such as making false statements, obstruction of justice and disclosing classified information.

Another possibility was for Fitzgerald to bring a broad conspiracy charge, the lawyers said.

Lawyers said Fitzgerald has sent several signals in recent days that he is likely to bring indictments in the case.

For the first time, Fitzgerald has set up an official Web site, which included a February 6, 2004, requested by Fitzgerald that gave him Justice Department authorization for expansion of the probe.

The letter from then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey gave Fitzgerald added authority to investigate and prosecute "federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses."

This comes on top of Fitzgerald's authority to investigate and prosecute officials for the "unauthorized disclosure" of Plame's identity.

Former independent counsel Robert Ray said on Fox News Sunday that Fitzgerald appeared to be "shoring up his mandate," and to focus on whether or not there were attempts to obstruct the investigation.

"People better be ready for charges," said Abbe Lowell, a prominent criminal defense lawyer.

Indictments would be stinging blow to an administration already at a low point in public opinion, and would put a spotlight on aggressive tactics used by the White House to counter critics of its Iraq policy.

Wilson says White House officials identified his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for publicly challenging intelligence that Iraq sought uranium from Niger in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.

Legal sources said Rove could be in legal jeopardy for initially not telling the grand jury he talked to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame. Rove only recalled the conversation after the discovery of an e-mail message he sent to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser.

Libby could be open to false statement and obstruction charges because of contradictions between his testimony and that of Miller and other journalists. Miller has testified she discussed Wilson's wife with Libby as many as three times before columnist Robert Novak publicly identified her.

Libby has said he learned of Wilson's wife from reporters, but journalists have disputed that.

Fitzgerald has also questioned Miller about whether Libby might have been trying to shape her testimony in a September 15 letter. Miller has come under sharp criticism by editors and reporters in the pages of her own newspaper over her conduct.

Ombudsman Byron Calame wrote Sunday, "the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, agreed that any indictments would be "damaging" to the administration. "It brings a whole lot of things to a halt," Leahy told "Fox News Sunday."

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