The federal investigation into
whether Bush administration officials leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent
began sometime after syndicated columnist Robert Novak first revealed the officer's
name in a July 14, 2003 column.|
article appeared about a week after the agent's husband, former Ambassador Joseph
Wilson IV (pictured below), publicly challenged President Bush's claim in his
State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the African
nation of Niger.
an op-ed piece published July 6 in The New York Times, Wilson said the CIA had
sent him to Niger in 2002 to look into the intelligence claim, but found no substantial
evidence to support the president's allegation. Wilson charged that the Bush administration
"twisted" some of the intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat"
and to justify an invasion of Iraq.
article and his subsequent public statements set off a firestorm of criticism
over the president's rationale for going to war with Iraq. The Bush administration
later recanted the uranium "yellow cake" claim after learning the information
was based at least in part on forged documents.
claim was later found to be essentially accurate after all, according to results
of British and American intelligence reviews. Britain's Butler Committee report,
released in July 2004, called the Iraq-Niger uranium allegation "well founded,"
and the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee determined there was "a number
of intelligence reports" confirming that Iraq was actively trying to purchase
uranium from several African nations.
July 14 column, entitled "Mission to Niger," downplayed Wilson's account,
asserting the CIA regarded Wilson's finding in Niger as "less than definitive."
Then, Novak, citing "two administration officials," wrote that the CIA
had sent Wilson to Niger at the suggestion of his wife, Valerie Plame, an "agency
operative on weapons of mass destruction."
later accused the "two senior administration officials," whom Novak
has never identified publicly, of trying to undercut Wilson's credibility because
of his charges against the Bush administration.
intentional, unauthorized disclosure of a covert operative's identity is a violation
of a 1982 federal law, the Intelligence Protection Act, which imposes maximum
penalties of 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.
two senior administration officials had reportedly called at least six journalists
based in Washington, D.C. to disclose Wilson's wife's identity, but those journalists
did not use the leaked information because they did not want to name an undercover
agent or because they did not find the information relevant to Wilson's Niger
finding, according to a Washington Post article on Sept. 28, 2003.
Time magazine on July 17, 2003 published an article, entitled "A War on Wilson?"
by Matthew Cooper, Massimo Calabresi and John Dickerson, examining how administration
officials were taking "public and private whacks at Wilson" since the
former ambassador penned his op-ed for The New York Times. In this context, the
reporters noted that the magazine had received a leak of Plame's identity:
some government officials have noted to Time in interviews, (as well as to syndicated
columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who
monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have
suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger,"
the Time article stated.
the same time, Time reported, government officials were "privately disputing
the genesis of Wilson's trip" and if Plame was ever involved in the decision
to send her husband to Niger.
10 days after Novak's column appeared, several Democrats in the Senate, among
others, began urging the FBI to investigate the leak of Plame's identity. In a
letter to FBI chief Robert Mueller dated July 24, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,
wrote that the disclosure has "possibly endangered Ms. Plame and her entire
network of intelligence contacts."
next day, FBI spokeswoman Susan Whitson said the agency would "look at the
issue and make determinations about whether there is an investigation that is
the severity of the leak, then-CIA Director George Tenet in late July prompted
the Justice Department to look into the potentially illegal leak and the CIA filed
a "crime report" with the Justice Department, pointing to a "possible
violation of federal criminal law involving the unauthorized disclosure of classified
information," The Washington Post reported on Sept. 28 and 30, 2003.
late that September, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Justice Department
would launch a preliminary inquiry, but the DOJ, not the FBI, would lead the investigation.
several Democrats in the Senate called for the creation of a special counsel to
head the investigation, saying that the attorney general could not impartially
lead an investigation that focused in part on his colleagues at the White House.
letters sent to Ashcroft and President Bush, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South
Dakota and three other senators said: "We do not believe that this investigation
of senior Bush administration officials, possibly including high-level White House
staff, can be conducted by the Justice Department because of the obvious and inherent
conflicts of interests involved."
Dec. 30, 2003, Ashcroft recused himself from any involvement in the inquiry, turning
the reigns over to Deputy Attorney General James Comey Jr. Subsequently, Comey
appointed a special investigator, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago,
to lead the probe and track down how the classified information was leaked.
investigation into the leaking of Plame's name has resulted in a number of subpoenas
and the prosecution has conducted numerous interviews, including with President
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the vice president's staff. Because the case
is a federal grand jury investigation, the names of those who have received subpoenas
or submitted to interviews are not public record.
-- Compiled by Liz Harper for the Online NewsHour