McClellan Is Questioned in C.I.A. Leak
President Bush's press secretary and a former White House press aide testified on Friday to a federal grand jury investigating who improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer, the press secretary and a lawyer for the aide said on Monday.
Published on Tuesday, February 10, 2004 by the New York Times
Top Bush Aide Is Questioned in C.I.A. Leak
by David Johnston
WASHINGTON — President Bush's press secretary and a former White House press aide testified on Friday to a federal grand jury investigating who improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer, the press secretary and a lawyer for the aide said on Monday.
The appearances of the press secretary, Scott McClellan, and the press aide, Adam Levine, reflected what lawyers in the case said was the quickening pace of a criminal inquiry in which a special prosecutor is examining conversations between journalists and the White House.
When he was asked by reporters on Monday whether he had been questioned in the case, Mr. McClellan said he had been filmed by news organizations as he emerged from the federal courthouse. "I think that confirms it for you," he said.
On Monday, a lawyer for Mr. Levine said the White House aide had also appeared on Friday.
Mr. Levine left the Bush administration in December after working as the principal liaison between the White House and television networks. Mr. Levine's lawyer, Daniel J. French, said, "In keeping with the president's request, Mr. Levine is cooperating with the Justice Department's investigation and in doing so appeared before the grand jury on Friday."
In addition to the grand jury appearances, which are believed to include other Bush administration officials, prosecutors have conducted meetings with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and sometimes combative.
Armed with handwritten White House notes, detailed cellphone logs and copies of e-mail messages between White House aides and reporters, prosecutors have demanded explanations of conversations between aides and reporters for some of the country's largest news organizations that under ordinary circumstances would never be publicly discussed. So far, no reporter has been questioned or subpoenaed.
One set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser. Prosecutors have described the notes as "copious," the lawyers said. In addition, the prosecutors have asked about cellphone calls made last July to and from Catherine J. Martin, a press secretary for Mr. Cheney.
In their discussions with White House aides, prosecutors have been careful to avoid signaling their overall theory of the case. Nor have they given hints about who they suspect leaked the information to Robert Novak, who wrote in a Washington Post column last July 14 that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the administration's Iraq policy, was Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. undercover officer.
Mr. Wilson traveled to Africa in February 2002 at the C.I.A.'s request, but found no evidence to support the conclusion that Niger may have supplied raw uranium ore to Iraq in the 1990's. In an opinion article published in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote, "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
The lawyers said that prosecutors have cited evidence that White House officials were extremely upset by Mr. Wilson's article and were angry at the C.I.A. for sending him to Africa, in contrast to the White House's effort to portray the reaction as only mildly concerned.
Even so, the lawyers said, the prosecutors have not indicated whether they have any evidence that White House aides planned to take concerted action against Mr. Wilson by disclosing his wife's name and job.
But prosecutors have said they would charge White House aides with obstruction of justice or false statements if they failed to provide truthful statements about specific conversations that some aides could not clearly recall among the hundreds of conversations with some White House reporters, the lawyers said.
Prosecutors have emphasized the seriousness of the case, informing the White House employees that they are "subjects" of the inquiry. In legal terminology, a subject is in potentially greater jeopardy of being accused of a crime than a witness. But a subject is in a less threatening situation than a target, someone who may expect to be charged.
The grand jury inquiry has accelerated at the same time that a group of former C.I.A. officers and some lawmakers have demanded a Congressional investigation into the leak. But so far, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have not initiated the inquiry.
The case began last year when the C.I.A. referred the matter to the Justice Department, which conducted a three-month preliminary investigation into whether anyone in the Bush administration violated a federal law by intentionally revealing the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer.
In December, Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the case after months of complaints by Democrats who said he could not fairly supervise an inquiry into Republican political allies at the White House.
At the time, James Comey, the deputy attorney general, referred the case to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago. Mr. Fitzgerald has brought in as his deputy Ron Roos, a career prosecutor in the Justice Department's national security section, and Peter Zeidenberg, a prosecutor in the public integrity section, which investigates political corruption cases.
Mr. Fitzgerald has sought to conduct the inquiry in secrecy. He has asked each White House employee to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to disclose the questions asked by prosecutors.
Several lawyers said they had refused to let their clients sign the agreements, unwilling to create an additional legal liability voluntarily. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald, declined to discuss the inquiry.
At first, the investigation seemed narrowly focused on trying to identify who at the White House provided the information about Ms. Plame to Mr. Novak. But more recently, prosecutors have focused on a Sept. 28, 2003, article in The Washington Post, which said the newspaper had been told that "yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."
Prosecutors, referring to the story as "one by two by six," have sought to learn the identity of the senior administration official or the two top White House officials, believing that whoever provided the information to the Post knew who spoke with Mr. Novak.
© Copyright 2004 New York Times Company
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