It’s the scandal that just won’t die. The federal grand jury investigating who leaked the name of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame has now subpoenaed the telephone records of Air Force One, the presidential jet, for the week before Robert Novak outed Plame in his column.
“The subpoenas underscore indications that the initial stages of the investigation have focused largely on the White House staff members most involved in shaping the administration's message on Iraq, and appear to be based in part on specific information already gathered by investigators, attorneys said Thursday,” reports Tom Brune of Newsday.
Translation: they know who did it and are looking for further information to bulk up their case.
It is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, to intentionally or knowingly disclose the identity of an undercover agent. Intent and knowledge are difficult concepts to prove legally, so investigators are most likely looking everywhere they can for evidence of it. The scuttlebutt from the beginning has been that Bush administration officials had called a half-dozen reporters to circulate Plame’s name in an attempt to discredit the criticism of the administration's Iraq policy by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. In 2002, Wilson went to Niger at the behest of the CIA to check out reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium "yellow cake" to develop nuclear weapons. He reported that Iraq sought commercial ties but that businessmen said the Iraqis didn't try to buy uranium.
Wilson, by the way, has written a book scheduled to be published in May that he says will disclose who leaked his wife’s name.
Besides the Air Force One phone records from July 7-12, when Bush was on a tour of Africa, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and then Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, the grand jury subpoenas sought other information that points to high-level involvement in the Plame matter:
-- The complete transcript of a White House press “gaggle” – an informal briefing – by Fleischer on July 12 in Nigeria. It is missing from the White House web site that normally posts the transcripts. During this session, Fleischer discussed Wilson and his Niger report. (There is a transcript from a day earlier, in which Rice also touches on the Wilson mission.)
-- A list of those who attended a White House reception on July 16 for former President Gerald Ford's 90th birthday.
-- All documents from July 6 to July 30 of the White House Iraq Group, whose existence has only been publicly discussed once, in this Washington Post story. The group met weekly in the Situation Room, the Post said, and its regular participants included senior political adviser Karl Rove; communication strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen J. Hadley; and I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
After this investigation runs its course it will be interesting indeed to get the story behind the story. Even without all the underlying detail, two things seem clear: The administration has tried to minimize this scandal since day one and the CIA has pushed hard to have it pursued to the end. So far, the CIA seems to have the upper hand.