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Prosecutors Zero in on Memo for Clues in CIA Agent Leak
Published on Saturday, July 16, 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Prosecutors Zero in on Memo for Clues in CIA Agent Leak
They want to know who on Bush team saw report on Plame
by Douglas Jehl, David Johnston, Richard Stevenson
 
WASHINGTON - Prosecutors in the CIA leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a CIA officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said.


(Colin) Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memo in hand.

Investigators have been trying to learn whether officials at the White House and elsewhere in the administration learned of the CIA officer's identity from the memorandum. They are seeking to determine if any officials then passed the name along to journalists and if officials were truthful in testifying about whether they had read the memorandum, the people who have been briefed said, asking not to be named because the special prosecutor heading the investigation has requested that no one discuss the case.

The memo was sent to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, just before or as he traveled with President Bush and other senior officials to Africa starting on July 7, 2003, when the White House was scrambling to defend itself from a blast of criticism a few days earlier from the former diplomat, Joseph Wilson, current and former government officials said.

Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memo in hand, said a person involved in the case who also requested anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about talking about the investigation.

Investigators are also trying to determine whether the gist of the information in the memo, including the name of the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, had been provided to the White House even earlier, said another person who has been involved in the case. Investigators have been looking at whether the State Department provided the information to the White House before July 6, 2003, when her husband publicly criticized the way the administration used intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, the person said.

The prosecutors have shown the memo to witnesses at the grand jury investigating how the CIA officer's name was disclosed to journalists, blowing her cover as a covert operative and possibly violating federal law, people briefed on the case said. The prosecutors appear to be investigating how widely the memo circulated within the White House and the administration, and whether it might have been the original source of information for whoever provided the identity of Plame to Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist who first disclosed it in print.

On Thursday, a person who has been officially briefed on the matter said that Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser, had spoken about Plame with Novak before Novak published a column on July 14, 2003. Rove, the person said, told Novak he had heard much the same information, making him one of two sources Novak cited for his information.

But the person said Rove first heard from Novak the name of Wilson's wife and her precise role in the decision by the CIA to send her husband to Africa to investigate a report, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear material there.

It is not clear who Novak's original source was, or whether Novak has revealed the source's identity to the grand jury.

Rove also talked about the Wilsons with Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter, on July 11, 2003, two days after he discussed the case with Novak. After his conversation with Cooper, the Associated Press reported Friday, Rove sent an e-mail message to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, about the exchange, saying he "didn't take the bait" when Cooper suggested that Wilson's criticisms had been damaging to the administration.

Rove told the grand jury in the case that the e-mail message was consistent with his assertion that he had not intended to divulge Plame's identity but instead to rebut Wilson's criticisms of the administration's use of intelligence about Iraq, the AP reported, citing legal professionals familiar with Rove's testimony.

Dozens of White House and administration officials have testified to the grand jury, and several officials have been called back for further questioning.

The special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has sought to determine how much Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman at the time of the leak, knew about the State Department memo. Lawyers involved in the case said Fitzgerald asked a number of questions about Fleischer's role.

Fleischer was with Bush and much of the senior White House staff in Africa when Powell received the memo. A spokeswoman for Powell said he was out of the country and could not comment on the memo. Fleischer said in an e-mail message this week that he would not comment on the case.

Fitzgerald has also looked into any role that might have been played by Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Lawyers with clients in the case have said their clients have been asked questions about Libby's conversations in the days after Wilson's article -- in part based on Libby's handwritten notes, which he turned over to the prosecutor.

In addition, several journalists have been asked about their conversations with Libby. At least one, Tim Russert of NBC News, has suggested that prosecutors wanted to know whether Russert had told Libby of Plame's identity. After Russert met with Fitzgerald, NBC said in a statement that he did not provide the information to Libby.

© Copyright 2005 San Francisco Chronicle

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