Miller, Miers and Washington Politics

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Reporter Judith Miller's testimony before a grand jury is creating an impact on White House policy, and lawmakers are rallying support for President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.


We're going to get some analysis this morning from NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. He's sitting in for Cokie Roberts. Morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so we learned more over the weekend about this investigation of an alleged leak of classified information. There are a couple of top White House officials involved in this investigation. How much trouble do they appear to be in now?

WILLIAMS: Well, Steve, it appears that the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, is looking at a variety of possible charges ranging from a conspiracy--a broader conspiracy on the part of the White House to try to discredit their critics, to possible perjury and obstruction of justice charges against specific White House officials, notably the deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury has until about October 28th to bring these charges. That's when the grand jury expires. It's possible that Fitzgerald could extend it, but apparently that's not in the cards at the moment, according to most of the lawyers involved in the case.

This is having a tremendous impact on the White House. There's anxiety there. You have two of their top officials possibly having to either resign or step down for a time. The president, of course, has said that, you know, if anybody leaked--initially, he said, they would have to leave the White House. And then later said if anybody's found guilty. But it seems that both Rove and Libby would leave the White House to try to create some distance between themselves and the president.

INSKEEP: Now how have people in Washington responded to what The New York Times printed over the weekend, Juan? Judith Miller, the reporter who went to jail for refusing for a number of days to reveal her anonymous source, some of her testimony was revealed in The New York Times and it's confusing to some people, certainly.

WILLIAMS: Well, it is confusing. But I think the overall reaction, Steve, first and foremost, is disbelief that she says she can't remember who first told her the name, Valerie Plame. She says that name appears in her notebook, but it's not connected directly to interviews she had done with Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, and then says she can't remember who the source was. People just don't believe it around Washington. And then, secondly, I think people are amazed, both in--I--or I should say in political circles, legal circles and media circles for her refusal to cooperate in the reporting done by her own newspaper. And I think it's--also some in media circles, you know, alarmed at the idea that The New York Times had told their own reporter that she shouldn't be reporting on weapons of mass destruction because she'd gotten so many of those stories wrong. So I think around town, there's just a little bit--a sense that we know less and there's still so many questions, even though The Times has done that reporting.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about a couple of other issues here, Juan. The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. How is the White House changing tactics to increase her chances of being confirmed?

WILLIAMS: Steve, they're changing from an approach that's focused, as you recall from last week, on her religious affiliation and her biography, the notion that she was a path-breaking, woman lawyer in Texas, to really talking about the notion of merit. Today, for example, two former chief justices of the Texas Supreme Court, John Hill and Thomas Phillips, are coming to Washington and they're going to offer testimonials to the brilliance of Harriet Miers as a lawyer. You're going to have a sense, I think, of people constantly coming forward to talk about work that she has done, her experiences both in the--as head of the Texas Bar and then later in terms of her work with the National--the American Bar Association. So what you see here is a real focus on her qualifications. This week she's busy with tutorials, answering questions from the Senate, continuing to meet with senators. There's a hope that suddenly you're going to see her as someone who merits this nomination.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: News analysis this morning from NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

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