CIA Leak Case Nears Its End
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GWEN IFILL: That grand jury investigating the CIA leak case is set to expire at week’s end, and Washington is waiting to see whether special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald will bring charges against senior White House officials Karl Rove and Lewis “Scooter” Libby. That shoe did not drop today, but White House officials, attorneys and reporters are on the alert. That includes Carol Leonnig, who covers the federal courts for the Washington Post. She joins us now.
Carol, welcome again.
CAROL LEONNIG: Thank you, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: Amid all the comings and goings at federal court today, were there any new developments?
CAROL LEONNIG: There were a few. There’s still a lot of mystery, and I think you described it well when you said Washington is on edge. Reporters and the White House are feeling, I think, as though this week is interminable.
The grand jury met for three hours today from about 9:00 until noon. They said goodbye. They left the courthouse. And they are expected back on Friday. It’s unclear exactly what Patrick Fitzgerald explained to them although we know from legal sources that he presented a summary of his case.
We know that he has not presented an indictment to the court today. And we are hearing from legal sources that he is expected to do that on Friday.
GWEN IFILL: The Washington Post reported today among other things that Patrick Fitzgerald’s folks were actually talking to neighbors of Valerie Plame in her Washington neighborhood, just within the last 24 hours I guess. What’s the purpose of that?
CAROL LEONNIG: Well, I think some of those interviews took place on Monday. And in interviews the neighbors told us that the agents wanted to confirm and verify that they had not been aware previously, and that means before Robert Novak’s syndicated column published Valerie Plame’s name, that they had not been aware that their neighbor worked for the CIA and was an operative. All of them said they had no idea before the publication.
This is seen by some legal experts as really an ominous development even though it’s very much at the 11th hour, ominous because it suggests that the prosecutor — and we don’t know his mind, he’s very leak-free — but it suggests that he is trying to establish that there is real damage that was done as a result of the revolution of her name and identity.
GWEN IFILL: One of the things your newspaper has also reported is that fairly early on in this investigation Patrick Fitzgerald received permission to expand his investigation from just whether a covert agent’s name was revealed to perjury charges. What are the possibilities here that he is pondering tonight about what kind of indictments might be brought, if any?
CAROL LEONNIG: Well, you know, the expansion of his authority as enumerated in that February memo from the deputy attorney general, some people take that as being very important. Others think it has less importance because a special counsel always had the authority to prosecute somebody for perjury or obstruction of justice.
But again some people see that memo, some legal experts, see it as a sign that the prosecutor wanted to make very clear that those would be issues or could be issues as he went forward in his investigation.
And remember that this was literally a month after he had been appointed. So perhaps he knew then that he had not exactly gotten the most forthcoming statements. And, again, I stress the word “perhaps.”
GWEN IFILL: Well, something else that it appears he knew fairly early on was reported in your competitor yesterday, the New York Times, which was that the White House — I have such a trouble keeping all the lines of this straight. But you’ll help me with this — was that, in fact, that Scooter Libby, Lewis Libby, had said in notes that he had been advised of the identity or of the existence of Valerie Plame by the vice president, which is different from what it is reported he is to have testified to the grand jury — in fact that he had gotten that information from reporters. Is that something which is also causing a lot of hubbub?
CAROL LEONNIG: It is. For two reasons that are quite separate. And, don’t worry, Gwen. I am getting some of the names and players confused in my head too. The other day I called Scooter Libby “Libby Scooter.” But I just would say that the two reasons that are relevant to your question are, first, the June 12 notes suggest — and we’ve heard that they were described accurately — they suggest that there are serious political ramifications for the vice president, that he knew a month before Valerie Plame’s name was public about her and about her role.
Now again I stress “suggest” because they’re Libby’s notes. They were what he wrote down about the conversation. The second element has to do not with political ramifications but criminal ones. It is really unclear the degree to which these notes make Libby more — it widens his exposure for criminal liability or some sort of charges.
That’s unclear because his grand jury testimony is not known in totality. It has been reported by sources close to Libby that he testified he may have heard of Valerie Plame’s identity or her general name from reporters — may have. That leaves open the possibility for hearing it from other places.
So it’s not a clear-cut prima facie case, at least as reported by the press, of obstruction.
GWEN IFILL: Well, we know that Friday is the expiration date for this grand jury, but we also understand that Patrick Fitzgerald could extend that. How would that happen and then what would happen next?
CAROL LEONNIG: This grand jury has been extended once already and some people have forgotten that. Most grand juries last for about 18 months. It’s a very tough duty. It’s a tough service for somebody to be there for 18 months. But that’s how long they usually last.
This one was extended in May to continue longer so that two reporters who refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald could go through a series of court motions where they were objecting to testifying and outing their confidential sources and Fitzgerald was pressing that the criminal investigation was so important, he had to know those sources.
Ultimately the reporters testified: Matt Cooper of Time Magazine and Judy Miller of the New York Times.
GWEN IFILL: And now this could be extended one more time.
CAROL LEONNIG: It’s a technicality but what really Fitzgerald could do to buy more time at this point is to seek the empanelment of a new group of grand jurors and sources close to the case say that he’s eager to avoid that route.
GWEN IFILL: Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post, back to your post. Thank you very much.
CAROL LEONNIG: Thank you, Gwen.