Prosecutor Winding Up CIA Leak Probe

10-26-05 - The federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity met for three hours Wednesday with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and his deputies, adjourning for the day without announcing any action.

Fitzgerald is known to be putting the finishing touches on a two-year criminal probe that has ensnared President Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby.

Away from the federal courthouse, FBI agents conducted a handful of last-minute interviews to check facts key to the case.

After the grand jury left for the day, federal prosecutors conferred for about an hour in the grand jury area of the federal courthouse.

There was no word on whether Fitzgerald planned to make any announcement or when the grand jury planned to meet again.

Fitzgerald and the grand jurors entered the courthouse around 9 a.m. EDT, with just three days left before the jury's term is set to expire. The timing on any decision is uncertain, however. It is possible for Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan to extend the life of the grand jury at Fitzgerald's request. Such a step would be taken in secret.

Lawyers representing key White House officials expected Fitzgerald to decide this week whether to charge Libby and Rove.

Rove and Libby joined other officials Wednesday at the daily White House senior staff meeting, as usual. Libby has been on crutches after breaking a bone in his foot.

Fitzgerald could charge one or more administration aides with violating a law prohibiting the intentional unmasking of an undercover CIA officer.

The prosecutor has also examined other possible crimes such as mishandling classified information, false statements and obstruction of justice.

Fitzgerald has been in Washington since Monday and over the last two days dispatched FBI agents to conduct some 11th-hour interviews, according to lawyers close to the investigation, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

One set of interviews occurred in the neighborhood of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was outed as an undercover CIA officer. Agents asked neighbors whether they had any inkling that Plame works for the CIA.

"They wanted to know how well we knew her, which is very well," said neighbor David Tillotson. "Did we know anything about her position before the story broke? Absolutely not."

Agents also interviewed a former unidentified associate of Rove about his activities around the time the leaks occurred.

Two lawyers familiar with the activities said the interviews involved basic fact-checking and did not appear to plow new ground.

Fitzgerald may want to establish Plame had carefully protected her CIA identity as part of the process of determining whether the disclosure of her name amounted to a crime.

On Tuesday, the White House sidestepped questions about whether Cheney passed Plame's identity on to Libby.

Libby's notes suggest that he first heard from Cheney that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, The New York Times reported this week.

Columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's name on July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson said publicly that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The timing of Wilson's criticism was devastating for the Bush White House, which was struggling to come to grips with the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.

The president's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was the administration's main argument for going to war.


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