The FBI investigation of the Valerie Plame affair appears to be moving swiftly – and judging from the stuff that’s leaking out, indictments may not be far distant.
“ … prosecutors have conducted meetings with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and sometimes combative.”
-- The New York Times
“In at least a few cases, the FBI questioning was portrayed as very aggressive, with agents homing in on specific conversations with journalists. ‘Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries,’ … "
– The Washington Post
My, my. Things appear to have gotten hot since Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside and turned the investigation over to a Justice Department professional, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Chicago area.
Among the White House officials grilled by the FBI are Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser; Press Secretary Scott McClellan; Mary Matalin, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney; former White House press aide Adam Levine; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff; and Cathie Martin, a Cheney aide.
Further, Matalin, McClellan and Levine have appeared before a federal grand jury in Washington that is hearing evidence in the case.
All this because this administration just couldn’t resist taking revenge on a critic. You’ll recall that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative until “two senior administration officials” identified her as such to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who blew her cover in this article. Her husband, Joseph Wilson IV, the former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, had been dispatched by the CIA to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase partially processed uranium ore known as yellowcake from that African country. Wilson found no such evidence and blew the whistle on the administration’s claims that Saddam was trying to obtain nuclear weapons materials in this op-ed piece for the New York Times. The administration retaliated by naming Plame and suggesting that she had proposed to superiors that her husband be sent to Niger (a conflict of interest for which no evidence seems to exist).
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a felony to disclose a covert agent's identity if the person making the disclosure knew the covert status of the employee and revealed it intentionally. If the FBI can’t round up the evidence for that charge – and it is a pretty steep evidenciary slope – it may well find evidence of obstruction of justice.
Then there’s this most intriguing paragraph in today’s Post story:
“A parallel FBI investigation into the apparent forgery of documents suggesting that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger is ‘at a critical stage,’ according to a senior law enforcement official who declined to elaborate. That probe, conducted by FBI counterintelligence agents, was launched last spring after U.N. officials pronounced the documents crude forgeries.”
There are two reasons why reporters Mike Allen and Susan Schmidt might have stuck this paragraph into a story about the seemingly unrelated Plame investigation. 1) It gave them a quick, shorthand way to update the Niger forgeries story or, 2) The Niger investigation actually is related to the Plame investigation.
If the latter is the case, then you’d have to suspect that whoever outed Plame either knew about, or had a hand in, the creation of the forged Niger documents.
Now wouldn’t that be something?
"I'd like to know who leaked,” Bush said last October. Well, sir, so would we all. And it looks like the FBI is determined to find out.