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Saturday, July 16, 2005

State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer - New York Times

State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer - New York TimesJuly 16, 2005
State Dept. Memo Gets Scrutiny in Leak Inquiry on C.I.A. Officer
By RICHARD STEVENSON

This article was reported by Douglas Jehl, David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson and was written by Mr. Stevenson.

WASHINGTON, July 15 - Prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a C.I.A. officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said.

Investigators in the case have been trying to learn whether officials at the White House and elsewhere in the administration learned of the C.I.A. officer's identity from the memorandum. They are seeking to determine if any officials then passed the name along to journalists and if officials were truthful in testifying about whether they had read the memo, the people who have been briefed said, asking not to be named because the special prosecutor heading the investigation had requested that no one discuss the case.

The memorandum was sent to Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, just before or as he traveled with President Bush and other senior officials to Africa starting on July 7, 2003, when the White House was scrambling to defend itself from a blast of criticism a few days earlier from the former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, current and former government officials said.

Mr. Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memorandum in hand, said a person involved in the case who also requested anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about talking about the investigation.

Investigators are also trying to determine whether the gist of the information in the document, including the name of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, Mr. Wilson's wife, had been provided to the White House even earlier, said another person who has been involved in the case. Investigators have been looking at whether the State Department provided the information to the White House before July 6, 2003, when Mr. Wilson publicly criticized the way the administration used intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, the person said.

The prosecutors have shown the memorandum to witnesses at the grand jury investigating how the C.I.A. officer's name was disclosed to journalists, blowing her cover as a covert operative and possibly violating federal law, people briefed on the case said. The prosecutors appear to be investigating how widely the document circulated within the administration, and whether it might have been the original source of information for whoever provided the identity of Ms. Wilson to Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist who first disclosed it in print.

On Thursday, a person who has been officially briefed on the matter said that Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, had spoken about Ms. Wilson with Mr. Novak before Mr. Novak published a column on July 14, 2003, identifying the C.I.A. officer by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Rove, the person said, told Mr. Novak he had heard much the same information, making him one of two sources Mr. Novak cited for his information.

But the person said Mr. Rove first heard from Mr. Novak the name of Mr. Wilson's wife and her precise role in the C.I.A.'s decision to send her husband to Africa to investigate a report, later discredited, that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire nuclear material there.

It is not clear who Mr. Novak's original source was, or whether Mr. Novak has revealed the source's identity to the grand jury.

Mr. Rove also held a conversation about Mr. Wilson's mission to Africa with Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, on July 11, 2003, two days after he discussed the case with Mr. Novak. In an e-mail message to his bureau chief provided to the grand jury by Time Inc., Mr. Cooper said Mr. Rove had alluded to Mr. Wilson's wife as a C.I.A. employee, though, in Mr. Cooper's account, Mr. Rove did not use her name or mention her status as a covert operative.

After his conversation with Mr. Cooper, The Associated Press reported Friday, Mr. Rove sent an e-mail message to Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, saying he "didn't take the bait" when Mr. Cooper suggested that Mr. Wilson's criticisms had been damaging to the administration.

Mr. Rove told the grand jury in the case that the e-mail message was consistent with his assertion that he had not intended to divulge Ms. Wilson's identity but instead intended to rebut Mr. Wilson's criticisms of the administration's use of intelligence about Iraq, The A.P. reported, citing legal professionals familiar with Mr. Rove's testimony. Dozens of White House and administration officials have testified to the grand jury, and several officials have been called back for further questioning.

The special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has sought to determine how much Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman at the time of the leak, knew about the memorandum. Lawyers involved in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald asked questions about Mr. Fleischer's role. Mr. Fleischer was with Mr. Bush and much of the senior White House staff in Africa when Mr. Powell, who was also with them, received the memorandum. A spokeswoman for Mr. Powell said he was out of the country and could not comment on the document. Mr. Fleischer said in an e-mail message this week that he would not comment on the case.

Mr. Fitzgerald has also looked into any role that I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, may have played. Lawyers in the case have said their clients have been asked about Mr. Libby's conversations in the days after Mr. Wilson's article - in part based on Mr. Libby's hand-written notes, which he turned over to the prosecutor.

In addition, several journalists have been asked about their conversations with Mr. Libby. At least one, Tim Russert of NBC News, has suggested that prosecutors wanted to know whether he had told Mr. Libby of Ms. Wilson's identity. After Mr. Russert met with Mr. Fitzgerald, NBC said that he did not provide the information to Mr. Libby.

The existence of the State Department memorandum has been previously reported by news organizations including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and The Daily News. But new details of how it came about and how it circulated within the administration could offer clues into who knew what and when.

The memorandum was dated June 10, 2003, nearly four weeks before Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in which he recounted his mission and accused the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq. The memorandum was written for Marc Grossman, then the under secretary of state for political affairs, and it referred explicitly to Valerie Wilson as Mr. Wilson's wife, according to a government official who reread the document on Friday.

When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

It is not clear who asked for the memorandum, but in the weeks before it was written, there were several accounts in newspapers about an unnamed former diplomat's trip to Africa seeking intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program. On May 6, 2003, Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The Times, wrote of a "former U.S. ambassador to Africa" who had reported to the C.I.A. and the State Department that reports of Iraq seeking to acquire uranium in Niger were "unequivocally wrong."

The memorandum was prepared at the State Department, relying on notes by an analyst who was involved in meetings in early 2002 to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq was pursuing uranium purchases. The C.I.A. was asked by Mr. Cheney's office and the State and Defense Departments to look into the reports.

According to a July 9, 2004, Senate Intelligence Committee report, the notes described a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at C.I.A. headquarters on whether Mr. Wilson should go to Niger.

The notes, which did not identify Ms. Wilson or her husband by name, said the meeting was "apparently convened by" the wife of a former ambassador "who had the idea to dispatch" him to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Mr. Wilson had been ambassador to Gabon.

The Intelligence Committee report said the former ambassador's wife had a different account of her role, saying she introduced him and left after about three minutes.

The information in the State Department memorandum generally tracked the information Mr. Novak laid out for Mr. Rove in their conversation, according to the account of their exchange provided by the person briefed on what Mr. Rove has told investigators.

But it appears to differ in at least one way, raising questions about whether it was the original source of the material that ultimately made its way to Mr. Novak. In his July 14, 2003, column, Mr. Novak referred to Ms. Wilson as Valerie Plame. The State Department memorandum referred to her as Valerie Wilson, according to the government official who reread it on Friday.

David E. Sanger and Scott Shane contributed reporting for this article.

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