The investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson is heating up. Evidence is mounting that senior officials in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Security Council conspired to unmask Plame Wilson's identity to reporters in an effort to stop her husband from publicly criticizing the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence, according to sources close to the two-year-old probe.
In recent weeks, investigators working for Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald have narrowed their focus to a specific group of officials who played a direct role in pushing the White House to cite bogus documents claiming that Iraq attempted to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger, which Plame Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had exposed as highly suspect.
It's unknown when Fitzgerald will present the grand jury with additional evidence related to this aspect of the case or if he is close to securing indictments. The sources said the Special Prosecutor is very "methodical," and they expect the investigation to continue well into the spring.
The new grand jury hearing evidence in the leak case was empanelled in November. Right now, the jurors are still absorbing two years' worth of evidence Fitzgerald presented to the jurors a couple of weeks after the previous grand jury's term expired at the end of October. Sources said the jurors have raised numerous legal questions about unnamed senior Bush administration officials against whom Fitzgerald is trying to secure indictments.
Sources close to the probe said witnesses involved in the case told FBI investigators that Joseph was one of the recipients of a classified State Department memo in June 2003 that not only debunked the Niger allegations but also included a top-secret reference to Valerie Plame Wilson's work for the CIA, and that she may have been responsible for recommending that the CIA send her husband to Niger to investigate the uranium claims in February 2002.
The sources added that the witnesses testified that Joseph and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had worked directly with senior officials from vice president Cheney's office - including Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, National Security Adviser John Hannah, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove - during the month of June to coordinate a response to reporters who had phoned the vice president's office and the NSC about the administration's use of the Niger documents.
Libby was indicted in October on five counts of lying to investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice related to his role in the Plame Wilson leak. Legal scholars said that Fitzgerald can ask a grand jury to add conspiracy charges against Libby if he uncovers evidence that Libby and other administration officials worked together to leak Plame Wilson's identity to reporters in an effort to silence her husband. If additional charges were filed against Libby it would come in the form of a superseding indictment. Fitzgerald would have to introduce new evidence and witnesses against Libby to the grand jury, and the grand jury would decide whether there were enough evidence to support the superseding indictment.
In a court filing made public Friday in response to a defense motion in which Libby's attorneys wanted Fitzgerald to turn over highly classified documents to assist the defense's case, Fitzgerald made it clear that Libby was not charged with conspiracy.
"Libby is not charged with conspiracy or any other offense involving acting in concert with others, and the indictment lists no un-indicted co-conspirators," states Fitzgerald's motion, which asks a judge to deny the defense motion seeking evidence Fitzgerald said is unrelated to Libby's criminal indictment.
That could change, however, the sources said, if there is enough evidence to support conspiracy charges.
Although that remains to be seen, former State Department and CIA officials who have testified about their role in the leak said they believe officials at the National Security Council and in the vice president's office worked together to unmask Plame Wilson to reporters, specifically to undercut her husband's credibility. They said that Joseph was one NSC staffer who worked with Cheney officials to do so.
Moreover, Joseph testified that he did not recall receiving a warning in the form of a phone call from Alan Foley, director of the CIA's nonproliferation, intelligence and arms control center, saying that the "sixteen words" should not be included in Bush's speech, the sources said.
Foley had revealed this element during a closed-door hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence back in July 2003 - just two weeks after Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that proved the administration cited suspect intelligence claiming Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger.