Washington Awaits Potential Indictments in Plame Leak

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A grand jury investigating the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame ends its term Friday. The prospect of indictments hangs over the proceedings, but there's no word yet of any charges.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today a grand jury finishes one of the most closely watched inquiries of recent years. The grand jury spent two years looking into the leak of a CIA officer's identity here in Washington. The two top aides for President Bush and Vice President Cheney are at the center of the investigation and the White House is bracing for the possibility of indictments. Now the grand jury's term is coming to a close at the same time the White House begins a new search for a Supreme Court nominee following yesterday's withdrawal of Harriet Miers. Joining us now to talk about all of this is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Busy day here. What can we expect today in the leak investigation?

TOTENBERG: Well, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to make an announcement and Washington is hot with the heavy breath of reports that Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, is likely to be indicted and that the president's top political aide, Karl Rove, is working hard through his lawyers to persuade the prosecutor not to indict him. I wish I could tell you something with any conviction--no pun intended, Steve--but I really can't confirm anything with enough sources that I'm confident of anything. So I think we're just going to have to wait in the same state of suspended animation that the White House is in.

INSKEEP: Well, as we wait for reliable news, do we know what charges the special prosecutor here is considering?

TOTENBERG: Most of the speculation centers on perjury or obstruction. Scooter Libby, for instance, is said to have testified to the grand jury that he learned of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame from reporters. But the reporters, including Tim Russert of NBC and others, have denied that they gave any of that information--they knew that information even to give to him, and Libby's own notes show that he learned of Plame's identity from Vice President Dick Cheney shortly after Plame's husband went public with his criticism of the administration's weapons of mass destruction justification for the Iraq War.

As for Karl Rove, he failed to tell the grand jury about his conversation about Plame with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. After Cooper testified before the grand jury and provided his notes, Rove, in his fourth appearance before the grand jury, testified that the conversation had slipped his mind. And there may be more information. In fact, there probably is more information that's not yet become public and that we may or may not learn today. Indeed, I've been told by some sources that there are already indictments that have been handed up by the grand jury and sealed. And I've been told by other sources that no indictments have been voted on yet, so that the grand jury's tenure could be extended again.

INSKEEP: And remarkable timing here. All of this speculation comes just a day after the president withdrew Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court, which leads to the question of, well, who comes next? Who are you hearing about? Who's on the short list?

TOTENBERG: The White House seems to be still reeling over this and what could be coming down the pike from special counsel Fitzgerald and his grand jury. But what I've been told by Republican and White House sources is that the president's criteria--when he picked Miers that he had three criteria: a woman, a conservative and no fight with the Democrats. And the only person who met all those criteria, or so the White House thought, was Miers. And, of course, she had a fight with the Republicans. So it seems likely one or more of those criteria will go.

The conservatives who bashed her for the first 24 days of her nomination--well, you know, it could be that they're going to decide that they really need to go in that direction. But some of them like having a fight. Some of these groups are--raise money from a fight. They want a fight. They think it'll help them in 2006, but the president has an awful lot of big things on his plate right now and he might want to avoid a big fight. The women that I've heard mentioned, most of them would provide a very big fight: Edith Jones, Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, these are all federal judges. Karen Williams is the new flavor of the week from South Carolina, also very conservative, would likely provide a big fight.

INSKEEP: OK.

TOTENBERG: And if we went to men, of course, there are a lot of big brains on that list.

INSKEEP: And we'll keep...

TOTENBERG: And most of them would provide a fight, too.

INSKEEP: And we'll keep talking about that. Nina, thanks.

That's NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

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