Second White House Official Named in Plame Leak
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A second White House official has been named as a source for the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Yesterday Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper said he spoke with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, about the case. This is the latest twist in a story that, for the moment, rivals the selection of the next Supreme Court justice. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins me now.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Juan, what did Matthew Cooper have to say yesterday about his testimony before the grand jury that is investigating this case?
WILLIAMS: Renee, in a first-person article in Time magazine and on "Meet the Press," Cooper said he spoke to Libby after first having a conversation with Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser. Cooper testified before the grand jury only after Rove gave him a waiver of their reporter-source confidentiality agreement. Cooper said he also testified before the grand jury a year ago when Libby gave him a similar waiver. Cooper said yesterday there may have been other sources as well who talked, but he didn't name them. One interesting note here, Renee. Cooper said this conversation with Rove ended with Karl Rove saying, quote, "I've already said too much."
MONTAGNE: What do we know about what has been told to the grand jury that could lead to criminal indictments?
WILLIAMS: Well, from what we know, Rove was the first to tell Cooper that the wife of a critic of the administration's Iraq policy was a CIA agent who worked collecting information on weapons of mass destruction. He didn't say she was undercover, and neither Rove nor Libby used her actual name. They just said they'd also heard that the man's wife worked at the CIA. Now at the time, the White House was trying to undermine the credibility of that critic, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had traveled to Niger for the CIA to investigate whether Iraq was trying to get nuclear materials. Wilson later wrote in The New York Times that the Bush White House was twisting intelligence on Iraq's nuclear weapons program to justify going to war.
MONTAGNE: And what is the White House reaction to Matthew Cooper's public statements?
WILLIAMS: Well, there hasn't been any official comment, Renee, coming from the White House following Cooper's statements yesterday, but Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Karl Rove has been vindicated. He said reporters were the first to mention the name of Wilson's wife and that she was a CIA agent, and that all Rove did was agree that he had heard similar reports. Mehlman accuses Democrats of smearing Rove.
But John Podesta, who was chief of staff under President Clinton, said earlier claims by the Bush White House that Rove and Libby were not involved, quote, "That was a lie."
MONTAGNE: And do we know who is the target of this grand jury investigation?
WILLIAMS: That's really interesting, Renee. Karl Rove's lawyer says he's been told by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, that Rove is not a target of the probe. Now initially the investigation was thought to be about who disclosed the agent's identity, but now there's speculation that it may be a probe into whether any government officials lied to the grand jury or obstructed the investigation.
The ultimate question remains whether there will be any indictment, of course, and who is to be indicted. There will be tremendous political fallout if any White House official is indicted. The grand jury will close in October, so you can expect this story to pick up steam in August and September.
MONTAGNE: Well, from what we know now, has--speaking about indictments--has any law been broken?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's against the law to make public the name of a covert agent, but a government official who has access to classified information would also have to intentionally reveal the name to break the law. The agent in question, Valerie Plame, was undercover when the leak took place. That's why the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate. So far we don't know who first identified Plame, and we don't know if the White House obstructed the investigation into the leak.
MONTAGNE: Well, back briefly to the other big story out of Washington, what's the latest on the selection of the next Supreme Court justice?
WILLIAMS: There are reports this morning, Renee, that the announcement could come this week, that the White House has put people on alert to be ready. Certainly it seems now the announcement will come by the end of this month. The White House hasn't given any indication who President Bush might nominate, but in the last week there has been much more emphasis in all of the discussions about candidates who are women and who are minorities, of course, to replace one of the two women on the court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says he expects hearings on the nomination will begin in September, not August.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, NPR News senior correspondent Juan Williams.
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