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Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I have been skeptical that Patrick Fitzgerald would broaden the scope of his investigation to include anything beyond the narrow question of who leaked Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak and other reporters. I thought it was possible that if he uncovered perjury or obstruction in the course of that investigation he might run with it. But, this WaPo article indicates that he might have gone beyond that narrow question:

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.

Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street. In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa.

Most of the questioning of CIA and State Department officials took place in 2004, the sources said.

It remains unclear whether Fitzgerald uncovered any wrongdoing in this or any other portion of his nearly 18-month investigation. All that is known at this point are the names of some people he has interviewed, what questions he has asked and whom he has focused on.

This is interesting, but I have to say that I'm not getting my hopes up. Unless he's got a high level witness who's spilling his guts, I have my doubts that this will blow the lid off of the Iraq lies. His investigation, after all, is said to have been pretty much wrapped up in 2004. How thoroughly could he have investigated this in that time? On the other hand it's very intriguing that he looked into it at all and it's at least possible that he could have exposed the white house effort to shift the blame for the yellowcake mess.

One thing is clear. The turf war between the White House and the CIA is now open warfare:

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified information.

In a column published Oct. 1, 2003, Novak wrote that the CIA official he spoke to "asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause 'difficulties' if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name."

Harlow was also involved in the larger internal administration battle over who would be held responsible for Bush using the disputed charge about the Iraq-Niger connection as part of the war argument. Based on the questions they have been asked, people involved in the case believe that Fitzgerald looked into this bureaucratic fight because the effort to discredit Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy.

Wilson unleashed a multimedia attack on Bush's claim on July 6, 2003, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," in an interview in The Post and writing his own op-ed article in the New York Times, in which he accused the president of "twisting" intelligence.

Behind the scenes, the White House responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words to have remained in Bush's speech. As part of this effort, then-national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley spoke with Tenet during the week about clearing up CIA responsibility for the 16 words, even though both knew the agency did not believe Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Tenet was interviewed by prosecutors in the leak case, but it is not clear whether he appeared before the grand jury, a former CIA official said.


A former senior CIA official said yesterday that Tenet's statement was drafted within the agency and was shown only to Hadley on July 10 to get White House input. Only a few minor changes were accepted before it was released on July 11, this former official said. He took issue with a New York Times report last week that said Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, had a role in Tenet's statement.

Fitzgerald has run a very tight investigation for it not to have come out before now that he interviewed the head of the CIA and his top deputy. (And it certainly makes it important to know if John Bolton was one of those who was interviewed and if he lied about it to the Senate...)

If he's on to something really serious, perhaps even reaching the president, it may very well explain why Pat Roberts has been hinting around about investigating Fitzgerald and talking openly about holding hearings into whether the CIA is handling its covert agents properly. They are firing shots across the bow now --- at both Fitzgerald and the Agency.

*By the way, the mysterious stranger mentioned in the article is covered in depth in Wilson's book --- and Wilson evidently went to great lengths to document the meeting at the time it happened.

**And you have to love the fact that it now looks very much like Robert Novak knew that Plame was covert and published her identity anyway. He really is a Prime DFL.

UPDATE: This is truly scary, but I think Susie may be on to something. The hearings may just be an efficent way to grant immunity to the perpetrators. There would be nothing Fitzgerald or anyone else could do about it. Wow.

And as we speak, the Democrats are all clamoring for hearings. Is it possible they didn't anticipate this possibility?

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., unveiled an Internet "Accountability Clock" to highlight the lack of congressional hearings in the 742 days since Plame's identity was disclosed after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, attacked some of the administration's pre-war claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Lautenberg noted that he had served in the Senate under four presidents, but that "for the first time ... I'm watching the United States shirk its duty to check the powers of the White House."

The Republican majorities in the House and Senate are giving the president "a free pass" on the CIA leak controversy, he charged.

Spokesman for Frist and Hastert did not respond immediately to requests for comment Monday.

But within hours of the release of Kerry's letter, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, announced his panel would hold hearings on toughening legislation barring unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Similarly, Hoekstra's counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., disclosed he will preside over hearings on how the intelligence community determines which officers need their identities protected and are covered by the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

It would be Frist-worthy if the Democrats actually helped enable the GOP to derail Fitzgerald's investigation.

On the other hand, they've given no indication that they are willing to get into this case in public, which they would have to do if they give Rove and Libby immunity and call them before the panel. But you never know. If the shit is really hitting the fan they may just be willing to take some lumps, call them as witnesses and "explain" under immunity how it really wasn't a bad thing to expose Plame because she wasn't really covert. In which case, Fitzgerald's case is over.

I can see them doing this and I can see them getting away with it too. It's just confusing enough and clever enough to baffle the press corpse and leave the Democrats gasping impotently on the sidelines.