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22 Oct 2005 10:24
In the clearest indication to date that criminal charges against top White House officials may be in the offing, the special prosecutor investigating the CIA leak case has unveiled his own website—one week before his probe was scheduled to wrap up.
Although aides to Patrick Fitzgerald urged reporters not to read too much into the move, its timing on Friday gave new fodder to speculation that White House political strategist Karl Rove and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice-President Richard Cheney, could be in legal trouble.
The prosecutor has already spent nearly two years trying to determine who in President George Bush’s immediate entourage illegally disclosed the name of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame—without seeking to publicise his work on the internet.
That is why his decision to establish a presence in cyberspace so late in the game is seen as an indication that Fitzgerald believes his work will continue far beyond October 28, when the term of his grand jury expires.
Only a grand jury can indict a person in the United States. Fitzgerald is expected to meet with its members on Tuesday or Wednesday.
So far, the no-frills site, which can be viewed at www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln/osc/index.html, does not contain any new information.
It houses an archive of government court filings related to eventually successful attempt by the prosecutor to force reporters Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine to testify in the case.
The latest document dated August 12 and signed by Deputy Attorney General James Comey delegates to Fitzgerald “all of the authority of the attorney general” in investigating the case.
But Washington insiders find it hard to believe the site has been set up just for history buffs.
They expect new legal documents—most likely indictments—to find there way there soon.
Plame’s name was first disclosed in July 2003 by conservative columnist Robert Novak, following her husband Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger the previous year, during which the former US ambassador to the African nation tried to verify reports that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium ore there.
With hard evidence of that lacking, Wilson wrote a newspaper article, in which he accused the Bush administration of “exaggerating the Iraqi threat” in order to justify the war.
The outing of Plame, which has effectively invalidated her undercover career, is largely seen as an act of retribution against Wilson.
The investigation is now focused on Rove and Libby, both of whom have admitted telling reporters that Wilson’s wife was instrumental in organising his trip, but denied disclosing her name.
Under US law, it is a crime to knowingly identify a covert intelligence operative by name, but not necessarily describe his or her family ties.
However, an entry on Wilson in Who’s Who in America contains information that he is married to Valerie Elise Plame.
Given these legal nuances, if any charges are brought, legal experts argue, they are more likely to stem from Rove’s and Libby’s testimony before the grand jury rather than their conversations with journalists—and center on possible perjury or obstruction of justice.
Although Fitzgerald has not tipped his hand in any way, some in the administration already have an ominous foreboding.
“I’m very concerned it could go very, very badly,” said a senior administration official, who asked not to be identified.
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