Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cheney told top aide of CIA officer


Cheney told top aide of CIA officer: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff first learned about the CIA officer at the center of a leak investigation in a conversation with Cheney weeks before her identity became public in July 2003, The New York Times reported on Monday.

Notes of the conversation between chief of staff Lewis Libby and Cheney on June 12, 2003, put a spotlight on the vice president's possible role in the leak. The account also appears to run counter to Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he first learned about the CIA officer, Valerie Plame, from reporters.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor investigating the leak of Plame's identity, is said by lawyers involved in the case to be considering bringing charges against Libby for making false statements and possibly obstruction of justice.

Another possible target for indictment is Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser. Fitzgerald's announcement is expected later this week.

Plame's identity was leaked to the media after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence on Iraq. Wilson based the criticism in part on a CIA-sponsored mission he made to Africa in 2002 to check out an intelligence report that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.

Cheney's office had sought more information about the uranium deal, prompting the CIA to dispatch Wilson.

Eager to distance the vice president from Wilson's mission and findings, Cheney's office began looking into Wilson's background in May or June of 2003, after details of his mission began to appear in the press but well before he came out publicly in July 2003 with his criticisms, people close to the investigation said.

Libby's notes indicate that Cheney got his information about Plame from George Tenet, who was then the CIA director, according to the Times, which attributed its report to lawyers involved in the case.

According to the Times, the notes do not show that Cheney knew the name of Wilson's wife. But they do show that Cheney did know and told Libby that she was employed by the CIA and that she may have helped arrange her husband's trip.

Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Randall Samborn, Fitzgerald's spokesman, declined to comment.

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride would only say, "We're cooperating fully, as the president and the vice president directed us."

A former intelligence official close to Tenet said the former CIA director has not been in touch with Fitzgerald's staff for over 15 months and was not asked to testify before the grand jury.

"Mr. Tenet does not wish to make any comments regarding an ongoing investigation," the former intelligence official said.