New Questions About Inquiry in C.I.A. Leak
September 2, 2006
New Questions About Inquiry in C.I.A. Leak
By DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 An enduring mystery of the
C.I.A. leak case has been solved in recent days, but
with a new twist: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the
prosecutor, knew the identity of the leaker from his
very first day in the special counsels chair, but
kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years before
indicting I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick
Cheneys former chief of staff, on obstruction
Now, the question of whether Mr. Fitzgerald properly
exercised his prosecutorial discretion in continuing
to pursue possible wrongdoing in the case has become
the subject of rich debate on editorial pages and in
legal and political circles.
Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of
state, first told the authorities in October 2003 that
he had been the primary source for the July 14, 2003,
column by Robert D. Novak that identified Valerie
Wilson as a C.I.A. operative and set off the leak
Mr. Fitzgeralds decision to prolong the inquiry once
he took over as special prosecutor in December 2003
had significant political and legal consequences. The
inquiry seriously embarrassed and distracted the Bush
White House for nearly two years and resulted in five
felony charges against Mr. Libby, even as Mr.
Fitzgerald decided not to charge Mr. Armitage or
anyone else with crimes related to the leak itself.
Moreover, Mr. Fitzgeralds effort to find out who
besides Mr. Armitage had spoken to reporters provoked
a fierce battle over whether reporters could withhold
the identities of their sources from prosecutors and
resulted in one reporter, Judith Miller, then of The
New York Times, spending 85 days in jail before
agreeing to testify to a grand jury.
Since this weeks disclosures about Mr. Armitages
role, Bush administration officials have argued that
because the original leak came from a State Department
official, it was clear there had been no concerted
White House effort to disclose Ms. Wilsons identity.
But Mr. Fitzgeralds defenders point out that the
revelation about Mr. Armitage did not rule out a White
House effort because officials like Mr. Libby and Karl
Rove, the senior white House adviser, had spoken about
Ms. Wilson with other journalists. Even so, the
Fitzgerald critics say, the prosecutor behaved much as
did the independent counsels of the 1980s and 1990s
who often failed to bring down their quarry on
official misconduct charges but pursued highly nuanced
accusations of a cover-up.
Mr. Armitage cooperated voluntarily in the case, never
hired a lawyer and testified several times to the
grand jury, according to people who are familiar with
his role and actions in the case. He turned over his
calendars, datebooks and even his wifes computer in
the course of the inquiry, those associates said. But
Mr. Armitage kept his actions secret, not even telling
President Bush because the prosecutor asked him not to
divulge it, the people said.
Mr. Armitage has not publicly commented on the matter.
The people who spoke about Mr. Armitages thoughts and
action did so seeking anonymity on the grounds that
the criminal case was still open and that their
remarks were not authorized by the prosecutor. A
spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald declined to comment.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who has spoken infrequently in public,
came close to providing a defense for his actions at a
news conference in October 2005, when Mr. Libby was
indicted. Mr. Fitzgerald said that apart from the
issue of whether any crime had been committed, the
justice system depended on the ability of prosecutors
to obtain truthful information from witnesses during
The information about Mr. Armitages role may help Mr.
Libby convince a jury that his actions were relatively
inconsequential, because even Mr. Armitage, not
regarded as an ally of Mr. Cheney, was talking to
journalists about Ms. Wilsons role.
But the trial, scheduled for early next year, may be
focused on the narrow questions of whether Mr. Libbys
accounts to the grand jury and the F.B.I. were true.
Judge Reggie M. Walton of Federal District Court, who
is presiding, has resisted efforts by Mr. Libbys
lawyers to give the case a wider political scope.
Mr. Fitzgerald may also point out that Mr. Armitage
knew about Ms. Wilsons C.I.A. role only because of a
memorandum that Mr. Libby had commissioned as part of
an effort to rebut criticism of the White House by her
husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Mr. Fitzgerald was named as a special counsel to
investigate whether the leaking of Ms. Wilsons
identity as a C.I.A. officer was part of an
administration effort to violate the law prohibiting
the willful disclosure of undercover employees.
Some administration critics asserted that her identity
had been disclosed in the Novak column as part of a
campaign to undermine her husband. Mr. Wilson was sent
by the C.I.A. in 2002 to Africa to investigate whether
the Iraqi government had obtained uranium ore for its
nuclear weapons program.
On July 6, 2003, a week before the Novak column, Mr.
Wilson wrote a commentary in The New York Times saying
his investigation in Africa had led him to believe
that it was highly doubtful that any uranium deal had
ever taken place and that the Bush administration had
twisted intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
Mr. Armitage spoke with Mr. Novak on July 8, 2003,
those familiar with Mr. Armitages actions said. Mr.
Armitage did not know Mr. Novak, but agreed to meet
with the columnist as a favor for a mutual friend,
Kenneth M. Duberstein, a White House chief of staff
during Ronald Reagans administration. At the
conclusion of a general foreign policy discussion, Mr.
Armitage said in reply to a question that Ms. Wilson
might have had a role in arranging her husbands trip
At the time of the offhand conversation about the
Niger trip, Mr. Armitage was not aware of Ms. Wilsons
undercover status, those familiar with his actions
said. The mention of Ms. Wilson was brief. Mr.
Armitage did not believe he used her name, those aware
of his actions said.
On Oct. 1, 2003, Mr. Armitage was up at 4 a.m. for a
predawn workout when he read a second article by Mr.
Novak in which he described his primary source for his
earlier column about Ms. Wilson as no partisan
gunslinger. Mr. Armitage realized with alarm that
that could only be a reference to him, according to
people familiar with his role. He waited until
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, an old friend, was
awake, then telephoned him. They discussed the matter
with the top State Department lawyer, William H. Taft
Mr. Armitage had prepared a resignation letter, his
associates said. But he stayed on the job because
State Department officials advised that his sudden
departure could lead to the disclosure of his role in
the leak, the people aware of his actions said.
Later, Mr. Taft spoke with the White House counsel,
Alberto R. Gonzales, now the attorney general, and
advised him that Mr. Armitage was going to speak with
lawyers at the Justice Department about the matter,
the people familiar with Mr. Armitages actions said.
Mr. Taft asked Mr. Gonzales whether he wanted to be
told the details and was told that he did not want to
One day later, Justice Department investigators
interviewed Mr. Armitage at his office. He resigned in
November 2004, but remained a subject of the inquiry
until this February when the prosecutor advised him in
a letter that he would not be charged.
But Mr. Fitzgerald did obtain the indictment of Mr.
Libby on charges that he had untruthfully testified to
a grand jury and federal agents when he said he
learned about Ms. Wilsons role at the C.I.A. from
reporters rather than from several officials,
including Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Libby has pleaded not guilty to all the charges
and his lawyers have signaled he will mount a defense
based on the notion that he did not willfully lie.
Neil A. Lewis contributed reporting from Washington
for this article.