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New Questions About Inquiry in C.I.A. Leak

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/02/washington/02leak.html?ei=5065&en=1939cd793ece790a&ex=1157774400&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print September 2, 2006 New
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2006

      September 2, 2006
      New Questions About Inquiry in C.I.A. Leak

      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 counsel’s chair, but
      kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years before
      indicting I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick
      Cheney’s 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. Fitzgerald’s 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. Fitzgerald’s 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 week’s disclosures about Mr. Armitage’s
      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. Wilson’s identity.

      But Mr. Fitzgerald’s 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 1980’s and 1990’s
      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 wife’s 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. Armitage’s 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
      any investigation.

      The information about Mr. Armitage’s 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. Wilson’s role.

      But the trial, scheduled for early next year, may be
      focused on the narrow questions of whether Mr. Libby’s
      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. Libby’s
      lawyers to give the case a wider political scope.

      Mr. Fitzgerald may also point out that Mr. Armitage
      knew about Ms. Wilson’s 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. Wilson’s
      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. Armitage’s 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 Reagan’s 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 husband’s trip
      to Niger.

      At the time of the offhand conversation about the
      Niger trip, Mr. Armitage was not aware of Ms. Wilson’s
      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. Armitage’s 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. Wilson’s 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.
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