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Questions and Answers on CIA Leak Case


The Associated Press

Washington - Reporters hauled before grand juries. A White House under fire. With the CIA leak investigation perhaps ending soon, some questions and answers about what it has meant:

Q: Who in the government disclosed the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame?

A: There is not a simple answer. In conversations inside the Bush administration, Plame was referred to as the CIA employee who was the wife of a former U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wilson.

In this regard, at least Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, qualify as leakers. Rove learned of Plame's name in a conversation with columnist Robert Novak. Where Novak heard about Plame's name is not known publicly. Libby says he did not learn Plame's name until he saw it in Novak's column. The reason any of this matters is that leaking the identity of a covert agent can be a crime.

Plame had a hand in sending Wilson on a trip to the African nation of Niger for the CIA. Wilson returned with the information he later used to accuse the White House of hyping prewar intelligence about Iraq, including the threat of nuclear weapons.

Q: When will we learn what the investigation by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has turned up?

A: Possibly as early as this month. The federal grand jury that New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified to on Friday expires Oct. 28. If Fitzgerald has plans to seek indictments, he probably would do so with the grand jury that has been dealing with all the evidence for the past two years.

If Fitzgerald does not seek criminal charges, it will not end the matter. By law, he will write a comprehensive report of his findings and submit it to the Justice Department, which probably would make it public.

Q: What convinced Miller, after spending 85 days in jail, that she should testify before the grand jury?

A: Perhaps Fitzgerald's promise to limit the scope of his questioning. Miller, a national security reporter with many sources in the Bush administration, undoubtedly feared open-ended questioning. The prosecutor would not have had to range too far to get into troubling territory for Miller. Starting in 2002, her stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq strengthened the administration's case in preparing for war. The failure to find the weapons was developing into a major issue at the time of the Plame leak and resulted in heavy criticism of Miller and her newspaper as well as of the administration.

Q: Miller said she wanted her source to release her from a promise of confidentiality. If a personal conversation between the reporter and her source was all she was waiting for, what took so long?

A: The saga of the phone call goes back more than a year, when Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, says he and his client released Miller to testify. Tate says he was surprised when Miller's lawyers again asked for a release in the past few weeks. Miller's lawyers called and said there was "a misunderstanding and Judy wanted to hear it straight from the horse's mouth" that Libby was releasing her to talk to the grand jury about their conversation, Tate said.

One of Miller's lawyers involved in the earlier discussions, Floyd Abrams, said there was "a great deal of ambiguity" about the long-ago release given by Tate. Libby, like other administration officials, had granted a blanket waiver authorizing reporters to speak to the grand jury about any conversations they may have had. Abrams said Miller was concerned that such a release "was, by its very nature, coercive."

Q: Other than testifying about her source, what could have kept Miller from going to jail?

A: Probably nothing. Fitzgerald was adamant that he needed Miller's testimony about the contents of her conversations with Libby. The prosecutor indicated in court in July that he was prepared to pursue a criminal contempt of court charge against her if she continued to defy him.

Q: What are the chances anybody is going to jail as a result of this investigation?

A: For disclosing Plame's identity, probably a slim chance at best. For lying to Fitzgerald's investigators, the possibility may be greater. The prosecutor seems to have pursued a number of questions that could signify nothing more than imperfect memory by witnesses or could point to evidence of a cover-up.

As late as July, Fitzgerald was asking Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper "several different ways" whether Rove had indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA. Rove never said, according to Cooper. Regarding the leak of Plame's identity, under the Intelligence Identities and Protection Act, there has to be an intentional disclosure of the identity. The person making the disclosure has to know that the information identifies somebody whose status is covert and that the U.S. government has taken measures to conceal the identity. Some legal experts say that high legal threshold appears to be impossible to meet in the Plame case.

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Associated Press reporter David Caruso in New York City contributed to this report.

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