Libby Said to Identify Cheney as Plame Source

The New York Times reports that Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, first heard of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame from Cheney. In a previous grand jury testimony, Libby told a grand jury that he first heard of Plame from journalists.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Every day, it seems, a little more information is leaking out about the investigation of leaks at the White House. The grand jury that has the case finishes its term on Friday. Everybody's waiting to find out if it will indict senior White House officials for revealing the identity of a CIA operative. One official who's been examined by the grand jury is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, and this morning, The New York Times reports on where Libby himself first heard that classified information. It reportedly came from his boss, the vice president. To talk about that and other developments, we turn to NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

Morning, David.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Before we get to this report in The New York Times, let's get the overall sense of the case here. Where do things stand?

GREENE: Sure. Well, you'll recall Fitzgerald is looking into whether someone or some people in the White House outed Valerie Plame as a form of retaliation. Her husband, Joseph Wilson, had been critical of President Bush in 2003 and said that in the buildup to the war in Iraq, the White House may have twisted intelligence to make the case for an invasion, and shortly after that, the columnist Robert Novak identifies his wife as a CIA agent. Now one of the officials that Fitzgerald has really zeroed in on is Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Fitzgerald knows he had conversations with reporters about Valerie Plame, but Libby has always maintained that he learned of Valerie Plame from journalists in those conversations.

INSKEEP: How does The New York Times report contradict that?

GREENE: Well, it takes you back to June of 2003 and it says that, according to some of Libby's notes, which Fitzgerald now has possession of, Libby had a conversation with the vice president about Valerie Plame before her name was reported in the media. And we should say first off the bat that there's nothing in the story that suggests Cheney did anything illegal or that he and Libby knew that Valerie Plame had covert status when they had the conversation.

But this mere suggestion of the conversation, I think, is important for a couple of reasons. Libby has always maintained that he learned about Valerie Plame from reporters, and so this apparent contradiction could give Fitzgerald some ammunition if he's considering going after Libby on a charge of perjury or obstruction of justice. And also the vice president, in the fall of 2003, told NBC News that he didn't know Joe Wilson, had never met Joe Wilson, and what The New York Times seems to suggest is he was talking about Joe Wilson in a conversation with his chief of staff a few months before that. And I think this could be a perception problem for the White House, too. Even if it's not a legal problem for the vice president, anything that gets Cheney closer to the investigation could be a real political problem.

INSKEEP: Cokie Roberts, speaking on this program yesterday, I believe, said this is a very nervous-making time for the White House.

GREENE: There's no doubt about that. Publicly, President Bush is trying not to let that image out. He keeps saying over and over again that he won't talk about the case. He was asked about it yesterday after a Cabinet meeting. I think we have some tape of that. Listen at the end of this how quickly he changes the subject to something totally innocuous.

(Soundbite of Cabinet meeting)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This may be the fourth time I've been asked about this, which I appreciate. You're doing your job. I'm not going to comment about it. This is a very serious investigation and I haven't changed my mind about whether or not I'm going to comment on it publicly. Fine-looking shades you've got there.

INSKEEP: (Laughs) OK. So at least he'll comment on the reporter's sunglasses, but the White House has to be following this closely no matter what the president says.

GREENE: They are, and actually we seem to get a rare window into the White House thinking. At a morning briefing yesterday, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the grand jury investigation, as he is every day, and he said, yes, presidential aides are as focused on it as reporters are. And he added--he said, quote, "We've got to keep our energies focused on things we can do something about." And I think that really gets to the challenge that the Bush White House is facing. As you know, this is a White House that likes control. They like to carefully scope their message way ahead of time. They like to be ahead of the game. And in this case, they don't have control. And when it comes to this grand jury and the special prosecutor, they're in the dark just like the rest of us.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

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