Friday, November 18, 2005

Fitzgerald to Convene New Grand Jury in Leak Case

This is from the Washington Post:

The federal prosecutor investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity says he plans to present information to a new grand jury, a sign that he is considering additional charges in his two-year-old probe.

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in court filings that his investigation "will involve proceedings before a different grand jury than the grand jury which returned the indictment" against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Fitzgerald obtained the indictment against Libby Oct. 28 on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and false statements and said at that time that his investigation was nearly complete. However, he told attorneys for Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, that Rove remains under investigation for possible false statements in the probe into whether administration officials revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003.

Since then, a new wrinkle has been added to the case by the disclosure that an unidentified senior administration official told The Washington Post's Bob Woodward about the CIA operative a month before her name was published. Woodward revealed that he testified in a deposition Monday, answering Fitzgerald's questions about his conversation with the official in mid-June 2003.

The timing of the conversation appeared to make Woodward the first journalist to be told that the wife of administration critic Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. Libby's defense team has seized on the revelation, saying it undermines Fitzgerald's case against Libby. The special counsel had identified Libby in a post-indictment news conference as the first official to disclose Plame's identity to a journalist.

Fitzgerald was scheduled to appear in federal court today to argue that much of the evidence gathered in his investigation -- material to be used in his prosecution of Libby -- should be withheld from the public or news media before trial.

This case is not over yet--not for a long while. Ever since Woodward revealed that he knew of Valerie Plame's identity, from a Bush administration source, a month before it was published, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this means for the case. Scooter Libby's lawyers have jumped on the Woodward issue, claiming that Woodward knew Plame's name before Libby talked to Time's Matt Cooper or New York Time's Judith Miller. The problem with this defense is that Fitzgerald is not indicting Libby for leaking Plame's name out to the press, but rather for lying to the grand jury and obstruction of justice. Woodward's revelation means that Fitzgerald hasn't finished his investigation--hence, the new grand jury.

The bad news for the Republicans, and the Bush administration, is that this investigation is not going away anytime soon. In 2006, we've got a convergence of three major issues. First, we'll have Scooter Libby's trial in which you'll probably see senior White House officials Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney having to take the witness stand. Second, the Plame investigation will continue on to determine the actual source of the leak--who knows what indictments will be handed down next year. And finally, there's the midterm elections. All of this can provide major fuel for both the growing scandal of the Bush White House manipulating intelligence as a marketing tool to sell the Iraq war to the American public, and the continued pressuring against both Congress and the White House to start pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq.

This spells bad news for the White House.

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