The CIA Leak Case and Grand Juries The federal grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of an undercover CIA agent is set to expire in nine days. It's currently unclear whether special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will ask that anyone be indicted, or, if he does, who, and on what charges. We take a look at the inside workings of a federal grand jury.
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The CIA Leak Case and Grand Juries

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The CIA Leak Case and Grand Juries


The CIA Leak Case and Grand Juries

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The term of the federal grand jury investigating the leak of the identity of an undercover CIA agent is set to expire in nine days. Right now, we don't know whether special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will ask that anyone be indicted. And if he does, who and on what charges? Or even if he might possibly impanel a new grand jury to continue the investigation.

But already the so-called Valerie Plame case has shaken the White House and some pillars of the national news media. Over the weekend, The New York Times published two articles about that paper's involvement in the investigation. One was written by Times reporter Judith Miller, who's a central figure. Judith Miller spent 85 days in prison after she refused to tell the grand jury the name of a confidential source. Last month, that source released her from her promise and she walked out of jail on September 29th. Miller has since testified twice before the grand jury, on the day after she was released and again last Wednesday.

Also last Wednesday, a federal judge lifted a contempt order against Miller. The New York Times has said lifting the contempt order cleared the way for the paper to publish its account of Miller's grand jury testimony. The second article recounted how The New York Times handled Miller's defense and the conflicts that defense created inside its newsroom. Though both articles lift the veil on some aspects of the case and on Miller's personal story, there are still many unanswered questions about the leak, Judith Miller, The New York Times and about the White House where at least two senior officials could face charges.

Later in the program, a neo-Nazi march triggers a riot in Toledo and your letters.

But first, the Valerie Plame case. If you have questions about Judith Miller's role in the case, how it affects the White House or the grand jury investigation, our number here is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is

We begin here in Studio 3A with David Folkenflik, NPR's media reporter.

Nice to have you on the program.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK (NPR Arts Desk Reporter): Good to be here.

CONAN: Before we get to the most recent developments, though, let's go back to the start of this story which goes back to the Bush administration's effort to build its case against Saddam Hussein's Iraq before the start of the war and back to its failure to find the weapons of mass destruction.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. This case goes back to sort of late spring, early summer of 2003. The White House had built its case for the invasion of Iraq in large measure on the notion that Saddam Hussein had pursued and probably obtained and created weapons of mass destruction. And those weapons, evidence not so much found when the US forces--the US-led troops were occupying Iraq in 2003. A certain amount of criticism began to build and, in fact, a former diplomat behind the scenes began to be quoted in columns of Nick Kristof of The New York Times around May 2003. The administration's very sensitive to this notion. That is, that they very much believe that Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction and they were looking to sort of knock out a main critic.

July 6th, 2003, the diplomat comes to light, it surfaces. It's a guy named Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador. And he blasts the administration and President Bush for overstating the case that Saddam had pursued these weapons of mass destruction in the African country of Niger. He had alluded to it in his State of the Union earlier that year that that was...

CONAN: This was supposedly buying a yellowcake, a form of uranium, to develop nuclear weapons.

FOLKENFLIK: Exactly so.

CONAN: Joe Wilson, it turned out, had been sent to Niger to investigate these claims; reported back that there wasn't much to it and so he knew that his report had gone back to the administration, that they knew this and he thought that they were skewing the facts.

FOLKENFLIK: He felt that the case that the president made wasn't supported by what he knew. And within, you know, less than two weeks, columnist Bob Novak wrote a piece in which he disclosed that the choice to send former Ambassador Wilson to Africa may have been influenced by his wife, and he named his wife, that was by a CIA operative by the name of Valerie Plame. Now as it turned out, Valerie Plame's designation appears to have been undercover and so within a couple of weeks, a hue and cry arose. Mr. Wilson charged that her identity was disclosed and therefore her career compromised as an undercover agent as an act of retribution by the administration, you know, for what he had done--for his criticism.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation now and that's Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. He's also with us here in Studio 3A.

And nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Tom. But the other character that we're talking about today, and that is Judith Miller, well, this story goes back to also her reporting on weapons of mass destruction before and after the war in Iraq.

Mr. TOM ROSENSTIEL (Director, Project for Excellent in Journalism): Judith Miller was the primary reporter at The New York Times who was covering whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, what the basis was for that paper. And she was a controversial figure inside The Times because she was basing a lot of her reporting on Mr. Chalabi and other supporters of the administration who were avid, ardent believers in this. There were people at The Times who disagreed with it--with her coverage, thought it wasn't well-reported. And ultimately after more information was revealed, The Times published a fairly extraordinary editor's note in which it apologized for its coverage and for a series of stories, almost all of which--all but one--were either written by or co-written by Judith Miller.

Subsequently, as we learned this weekend, Bill Keller, then the editor of The Times, who had not been the editor during all of the time that she was doing this reporting, ordered her not to continue any more reporting on Iraq and weapons. She continued to do so, however, despite these instructions and some of that reporting, which she never actually got into the paper, involved the same material that Bob Novak wrote about, the administration arguing that Wilson's work was biased or somehow suspect because he was sent--his wife worked for the CIA, had been involved in perhaps selecting him for this trip. Whether or not that's true or not is a little murky in the end. And what is less clear, also, is whether the people who were talking to Judith Miller actually named Valerie Plame by name or whether or not they just mentioned that Wilson's wife was at the CIA.

CONAN: Well, if you managed to keep all of that straight, prepare to take notes because it does get confusing. David Folkenflik, there is a law that says under some circumstances it is a felony to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent and that was where this investigation really began.

FOLKENFLIK: That's where this investigation began. It's not at all clear that that's where this investigation is after almost two years. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed in part because Karl Rove was suspected publicly by Mr. Wilson from the outset and he had been a consultant for the then attorney general, you know, John Ashcroft. So...

CONAN: I should just say--identify, Karl Rove is deputy chief of staff at the White House and the political mind credited with the success of George W. Bush.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right, the so-called architect of his election strategy. Mr. Rove had been suspected; others had been questioned. They brought in a special prosecutor to handle this so that it would be free of special influence. In this time, it appears that--if you look, for example, at Judy Miller's account in yesterday's New York Times, that she was questioned on a number of things that would suggest that the special prosecutor may be looking at other kinds of possible violations. There's certain kinds of espionage law that deals with the handling of classified information. Mr. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, seemed very interested in how Lewis Libby, the White House--excuse me, the vice president's chief of staff, who turned out to be Ms. Miller's confidential source, how he handled classified information in his three interviews with her over the summer of 2003 about Mr. Wilson.

In addition, he seems to be asking certain kinds of questions designed to determine if in any way she felt that Mr. Libby had tried to discourage her from testifying or tried to influence her testimony, which seems to suggest an interest in was he trying to obstruct justice in any way. And these are the kinds of ancillary charges that do sometimes emerge in these special prosecutor's investigations.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel, we'll get to listeners' questions in just a minute: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail is But as we read in The Times, the account, unbelievable candor about mistakes made within the newspaper. But The Times' handling of this was unusual to say the least.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yes. There's a variety of, as you say, complicated issues. The Times account yesterday was remarkable, the part that was written by its reporters, in its candor in revealing divisions within the paper, anger within the paper about how the paper was handling this case once Judy Miller became an object of the special prosecutor's demand that she testify. What the story also revealed are--and doesn't fully explain because the reporters themselves cannot explain it, are two things. First, why did--what was motivating Judy Miller? She claims that she was defending a high principle of protecting confidential sources. But then in her own words, she contradicts herself and says that she decided to get out of jail because she owed it to herself, not that there was any high principle that she had now been released from or anything like that.

CONAN: Well, she did request a letter and then a phone call with the source to make sure that he was OK with her--the fact of her testifying.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Although, a year earlier, the same source says that he had released her and she inferred that other things that were communicated at that time might have indicated that he didn't really want to release her, but she decided she never wanted to check with him to find out. So it was after she got fed up with being in jail that she decided to seek him out now, subsequently.

The second problem with The Times--or the second question that's unanswered and raised by The Times' candor--and I think they deserve an enormous amount of praise for how candid the story was--was why is it that the management of The Times would take a reporter who they didn't trust to cover this subject? When she continued to cover it and then this coverage got them into this legal jam, they decided to basically hand over the legal strategy entirely to her discretion. The publisher of the paper, Arthur Sulzberger, is quoted in the story as saying, "Her hands were on the wheel of this car." And remarkably the editor of the paper, Bill Keller, even said that he didn't even know what was in her notes, because as long as we were defending the high principle of source confidentiality, all the details were unimportant.

Well, then she subsequently hires another--a second lawyer, different from the lawyer that The Times had originally retained, who says to her, according to The Times' own reporting, `I don't defend principles, I defend clients. Let's get you'--in effect, `Let's get you out of jail.'


Mr. ROSENSTIEL: So The Times' management of her as a source or as a news object in this case comes under real question, even though The Times coverage yesterday, I think, deserves a lot of praise. Then her story explaining herself, I think, in the 24 hours since it appeared or somewhat more--36 hours--has brought great wrath on Judy Miller. Her attempts to defend herself have cast more doubt over her than I think she ever intended.

CONAN: We'll take your calls, I promise, when we get back from a break: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is We're talking with Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik about the Valerie Plame affair. We'll also be talking in a little bit with Michael Duffy of Time magazine about the political fallout.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about the Valerie Plame case and the investigation into how her name was leaked to the news media. Over the weekend, The New York Times published Judith Miller's account of her testimony before the grand jury. Our guests are David Folkenflik, NPR media reporter, and Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Of course, you're invited to join us at (800) 989-8255. You can also e-mail us:

And let's go right to the phones and John. John's calling us from Cape Coral in Florida.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon. I guess I'm as confused as anybody on this. But my question is: What role does Robert Novak play in this? It seems to me I keep hearing about disclosure and so on and did he refuse to say his sources and so on? What's his role in this?

CONAN: David Folkenflik? He was the syndicated columnist whose column first contained Valerie Plame's name.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, John's got a lot of company in wondering, you know, what about Bob? Where was he in all this? And the answer is that Bob Novak won't say. It is widely believed by lawyers I've talked to who are involved in representing various people in the case that Mr. Novak has cooperated fully with Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation and it has been reported that Mr. Rove was one of the two senior administration sources he cited in that first column revealing Ms. Plame's identity. However, Novak has not confirmed that. He's a syndicated columnist. His home base is the Chicago Sun-Times and they have not felt compelled to make him come out and say to the public what he knows.

CONAN: And was--well, I was going to say, he was also political commentator on CNN but not so much lately.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and that status really isn't resolved. He sort of stormed off after being told that he would likely be questioned about that and that certainly estranged him from that cable network.

CONAN: And before we go too much further, Tom Rosenstiel, Robert Novak and Judith Miller are hardly the only journalists who've been caught up in this.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right. There are two reporters for The Washington Post, Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Tim Russert of NBC. All of those people at different times eventually decided to testify before Mr. Fitzgerald after receiving some indication that the waivers that the government asked everyone in the Bush administration to sign were legitimate. One of the issues here that is important to understand is that Mr. Fitzgerald did something that a lot of journalists find very coercive. He asked everybody who might be a source in this or part of the investigation to--who works for the government to sign a kind of universal waiver that says if any--`If I ever talk to any journalists, I free them from any promise of confidentiality that they ever made to me.'

CONAN: And many journalists said, `This is inherently coercive. These people didn't do this willingly. That does not absolve me from my promise.'

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right. And Matt Cooper of Time magazine waited until the 11th hour when he said he received a last-minute communique from his source who said, you know, `It's legitimate, I wasn't coerced.' Judy Miller says she got mixed signals on this. We're a little less clear on what exactly the communication was with these other reporters. But all of them in one form or another got assurances and believe that the waivers--that there's more to it than the waivers.

The judge in the case, however, has--his few public utterances about it indicate that he believes that the waivers are legitimate and that there's no reporter privilege here because the waivers exonerate reporters from that.

CONAN: So, John, I think the answer to the question is: We'll have to wait and see. But thank you for the phone call.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Patricia. Patricia in Oxford, Ohio.

PATRICIA (Caller): Hi there.


PATRICIA: Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

PATRICIA: I wanted to find out what journalists might think about the fact that Judith Miller, who was disgraced as a reporter, bought her way back into the good graces of journalists by apparently falsely going to jail to protect a source who had already freed her to testify. Now what does that say about the American news media and its uninvestigated defense of Miller?

CONAN: David?

PATRICIA: All of the incredible stories that came out about what a great person she was and the marvelous things that she'd done, when now it's all being called into question.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, it's a fair question to ask about the media's response to Miller. To be honest, they're--she's been a divisive figure for quite some time, not least in her own newsroom at The New York Times. Her reporting on weapons of mass destruction came under fierce attack and it seemed after a while that she was the only one left defending it. You know, her response in the story yesterday was, you know, `I was wrong. We were all wrong. The government was wrong.' You know, actually to be fair, the Washington bureau of Knight Ridder, The Washington Post did much more skeptical reporting about the initial pre-war claims. So it's not entirely a fair characterization.

Miller did receive a lot of what one could term favorable coverage for taking the stand. Certainly she spent 85 days in jail on what she said was the need to protect a confidential source. That's 85 more days than I've spent in jail and more than most journalists have ever spent in jail and it's not something utterly to be dismissed. You know, Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times talked about, `Hey, look, this wasn't a perfectly clear-cut case for us because, you know, in this case it's not a confidential source who's a whistle-blower. This is a confidential source who turns out to be somebody at the highest reaches of government who's trying to sort of plunge a stiletto in a political opponent.' As opposed to somebody bringing, you know, safety concerns to light or the Pentagon Papers, classic kind of situations.

What he hasn't felt as comfortable talking about publicly is that, you know, the correspondent that he's defending is herself not the clearest-cut issue either. She's somebody who's been very compromised. She's somebody who has not been fully candid with her own editors, with her bosses, who's not--you know, who sort of operated unto herself as more than one critic has said in the last 48 hours and indeed in the last 48 months. She's somebody that The Times has not, time and again, felt empowered somehow to contain. For the publisher of a newspaper who is also the CEO of his company, his family's company, to say her hand was at the wheel in legal decisions, for the newspaper's top editors to say, `We killed a story that would have exposed her source because, you know, she was going to jail to defend that source, but not only that, we killed and discouraged other stories that might have gotten a little too close to it.'

The article that The Times published yesterday I didn't feel was completely thorough and candid in that there were things--a lot of things left unanswered and unspoken to, but certainly it conveyed the full sense that the reporting ranks were very dismayed by the way in which the news coverage was very much flavored and driven by Miller's own decisions on her legal defense.

CONAN: I feel compelled to issue the phrase Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Judith Miller. She did win the Pulitzer Prize as part of The Times team for writing a series of stories on al-Qaeda. Has been an aggressive and star reporter at The New York Times for decades before the Iraq War.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: She's somebody that editors and colleagues describe as almost freakishly able to get people to talk to her who are at times unobtainable for other reporters. And I've spoken to any number of, you know, former and current government officials who swear to her integrity, her intelligence, her insight and her sort of `getting the story.' At the same time, colleagues and editors I've spoken to of hers say that they fear that she's unable to distinguish between--there's almost no depth perception. There's an inability to distinguish between truthful sources and misled sources, sources who may be convinced that they're right and sources who aren't. And that is in some ways in their minds a hobble to reporting even as, as you say, she's a reporter of some real accomplishment.

CONAN: Patricia, thank you for the phone call.

PATRICIA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's turn now to Richard and Richard with us from Groton, Connecticut.

RICHARD (Caller): Yeah. Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RICHARD: A wonderful program, as usual.

CONAN: Thank you.

RICHARD: I have a couple of things that concern me. The--my understanding is that part of the deal for her getting out was that she would not have to disclose any other sources other than talk about what Libby told her. The second thing that concerns me is that apparently there were other information in her notebooks that she can't say what the source was because she can't remember. Putting the two pieces together, it makes me wonder whether or not there might have been some kind of a deal struck to get her out of prison so--and I don't mean with the prosecutors now or the special prosecutor, but in releasing her from her confidentiality, to protect somebody higher up the chain.

CONAN: Well, Tom Rosenstiel, there was a deal that the special prosecutor would only ask her about Lewis Libby--Scooter Libby, the chief of staff of the vice president.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: That's correct. Which, you know, until yesterday didn't necessarily raise a lot of eyebrows. But now that we know that there are things in the same notebook that pertain to Valerie Plame, who was actually described as `Valerie Flame,' it does raise a question of whether she's protecting other sources. Now let's not forget that this is a woman who is being applauded for her sacrifice in trying to protect confidential sources. We also have no idea whether these additional sources are inside the administration, outside the administration, higher than Karl Rove or Lewis Libby or not. It's hard to get too much higher than Karl Rove or Lewis Libby.

CONAN: Yes, David?

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, you know, I will say that there are those media figures and even some people inside The New York Times who grudgingly acknowledge doubts whether there was a second source. You know, people were very struck in the same article in The New York Times yesterday--not her account but I believe the account by the team of reporters trying to sort of say The Times' own role in this, that at one point Miller said, `Listen, I was too reporting on this. I suggested to my editor, directly, that I write a story about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.' And the managing editor of the newspaper, Jill Abramson, who was at that time the Washington bureau chief and would likely have been involved in that, said that Miller never made any such story pitch.

CONAN: And Miller would not identify the...

FOLKENFLIK: And Miller would not identify who the editor was, if not Abramson. So it--you know, it is--if this were not a journalist, journalists would sort of at times test and question the credibility of somebody who has some key memory losses.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: There's clearly some dissembling it appears going on by Judith Miller on this. However, the only problem is that if Lewis Libby is the source of `Valerie Flame' in the notebook and she's lying about it, then she's perjuring herself in bringing--you know, which seems like after 85 days in jail, she wouldn't be very likely to do.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I mean, it's a very fair point. There's no evidence that she has done that. It's just very hard to know preci--you know, it's one of these things Mr. Rumsfeld might called a knowable unknowable. We don't know precisely what happened there, and in fact, you know, she had this arrangement with the special prosecutor that she would only testify about the one source because, as her attorney swore, there was only one source in the case to testify about. What is more awkward is that she then came back and said there was actually this other person, which would to most people constitute a second source.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: And the bottom line here is that she was trying to come clean, and she hasn't come clean, and that's why we're here today with this great frustration.

CONAN: Thank you very much for the call, Richard.


CONAN: We're talking about the effect on Judith Miller and The New York Times. Of course, there is pressure on at the White House as well, and joining us now is Michael Duffy, Time magazine's Washington bureau chief. He's with us by phone from his office.

Michael, always nice to have you on the program.

Mr. MICHAEL DUFFY (Time): Nice to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Today again President Bush declined to comment on what action the White House may take, if any, if its top aides were to be indicted in the Valerie Plame investigation. At one point the president said anyone in his administration involved in the leak would be fired; then he modified that to say anyone convicted of a crime would be fired. What is this like at the White House now?

Mr. DUFFY: Well, these are terribly distracting days, and not only because of what's going on in the special counsel's office. The thing to keep in mind here and what makes the case riveting, I think, is that the aides are not just any two aides; they're the two most important aides in the whole, you know, 18 acres, as they call it. You know, it's the top aide to the vice president, a guy who handles both the national security and the domestic policy roles for the vice president. That's Lewis Libby. And of course, Karl Rove, who is the undisputed top aide to the president despite, you know, his role as just a political operative. He really plays on everything. So I--these are--that's the really distinctive aspect to this.

Still, we don't know what was said in the grand jury in most cases, and so what the prosecutor will do is really anyone's guess.

CONAN: We're talking to...

Mr. DUFFY: If anything.

CONAN: If anything.

Mr. DUFFY: If anything.

CONAN: We're talking about the Valerie Plame case.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

There have been suggestions, Michael Duffy, that the uncharacteristically stumbling start to the Harriet Miers nomination is in some respects attributable to the distraction of Karl Rove.

Mr. DUFFY: People have written that. There have been people who said it. I think you can find other antecedents for the president picking Harriet Miers, as I think since he took over the second term he's leaned most heavily on the people who peopled his first term in the White House. You know, he sent his national security adviser out to be secretary of State. He sent his White House counsel out to be attorney general. Now he's sending his second White House counsel out to be--he really has taken his closest aides and given them the most important jobs in the second term.

What's different about this one is that so many people in his political coalition were vested, heavily invested in this choice in a way that they weren't in the others, and that really has caused a firestorm. It's hard to see the upside for the president in the Miers choice. It only looks like downside to me, and that raises the question, I think, of how long she will remain his choice. I wonder whether she won't begin to think withdrawal is a more likely outcome here than confirmation. But it's--that too is--it's a moving picture, Neal.

CONAN: It is all a moving picture, yet is there beginning to be an impression of a White House under siege? You've got not just the Miers who's in political trouble and certainly no criminal trouble of any sort, but Rove and Scooter, the vice president's chief of staff; you've got the indictments of Tom DeLay--again, that's in the House of Representatives, nothing to do with the White House. But there is a perception of--you know, an administration that began saying, `We will certainly make a clean break with the moral problems that afflicted the previous administration.' Things aren't so different.

Mr. DUFFY: I think we're past the beginning of a problem. I think they're in their seventh or eighth week of this now, and it's gotten to the point where they're getting so accustomed to this story. I think they're really braced for something bad to come out of the special prosecutor this week or next. I'm not sure they know what it is or they have any idea, but you get to a point--all White Houses do--where they just sort of expect the worst thing to happen, and I think that's kind of where they are now. It may not turn out that way, but it really has a way of being terribly distracting and very difficult, as we saw during the Clinton years, to get started, to get restarted, I guess that's--all these presidencies try to start and restart themselves from time to time, and the more problems you have the harder it is to pull off one of those restarts.

CONAN: And how hard is it to maintain the idea of staying on message when all of the questions at the White House briefing every day, for example, all of the questions shouted at the president are not on message?

Mr. DUFFY: The difficult thing, I think, particularly is at moments like this any president needs his or her base, needs the people who are always consistently for him no--through good news and bad to be there, to be on the team. And at this moment, chiefly because of the Miers situation but not only, the base among conservatives just really isn't there. It isn't saluting smartly and going forth. That really has got--tends to get presidents through in tough moments when you can count on some aspect of your coalition just to be there no matter what, and this isn't true in this case now. So that's--also makes it hard to restart.

CONAN: Michael Duffy, we appreciate your time, as always.

Mr. DUFFY: You bet.

CONAN: Thanks very much for joining us today. Michael Duffy is Time magazine's Washington bureau chief, and we reached him on the phone at his office here in Washington.

Still with us are Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and NPR media reporter David Folkenflik. When we return we'll continue to take a few more of your calls on the Valerie Plame affair. We're also going to go to Toledo, Ohio, where riots erupted this weekend after a march by neo-Nazis in that city, and your letters.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. General Motors says it's reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers that will help the automaker lower health-care costs. The agreement could reduce GM's retiree health-care liabilities by about 25 percent. And human rights groups have expressed concern over the upcoming trial in Baghdad of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Human Rights Watch and other groups have raised questions about the fairness of the proceedings, which are due to begin on Wednesday. Details on those stories and much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, the drug Tamiflu is our best defense against an avian flu pandemic. The drug is in short supply. Who decides who gets it and who doesn't in the event of a health crisis? The ethics of medical rationing tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Right now we're continuing our conversation about the Valerie Plame case, which could be coming to a head. The term of the grand jury that was impaneled to investigate this two years ago expires in nine days. Our guests are Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and David Folkenflik, who's NPR's media reporter. Let's go back to the phones. This is Owen--Owen in Berkeley, California.

OWEN (Caller): Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

OWEN: I want to raise the question with your commentators about what they think of the possibility that this is a case of reverse leak--that is to say, that Valerie Plame--that Judith Miller, who's always been a strong supporter of the Bush administration, wanted to get something on Joseph Wilson, so she found out from some friends at the CIA about Valerie Plame and passed them on to Libby and/or Rove. In other words, her latest statement is that she can't recall who leaked it to her. So what do you think about these--the bloggers' suggestion?

CONAN: David Folkenflik, Owen is not the first to make this suggestion.

FOLKENFLIK: No, he's not. Just a couple of quick points. It's not clear that Ms. Miller is a supporter of the Bush administration per se. She is a very aggressive reporter whose articles seem to support, however, his cause for the invasion, the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Second thing is it would appear that the package published yesterday in The New York Times would utterly undermine that notion put forward--that is, by her own account she sort of fumblingly recorded twice Valerie Plame's name, once as Valerie Flame, once as--I believe it was Victoria Wilson, using the married last name but the wrong first name, with the proper initial. It would seem to undercut the idea she had heard about it anywhere other than that time period.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: The other thing I would add, Neal, is that I don't think that Karl Rove and Lewis Libby needed to find these things out from Judith Miller. I mean, the administration had this information already. There were reports on this, and you know, they have access to the CIA every day. The conversations that they were having with other reporters appear to point in the direction of their trying to discredit...

CONAN: Joe Wilson. And...

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: ...Joe Wilson. The issue really is now whether they did that in a way that was criminal or not, not whether they were trying to do it.

CONAN: Or whether they may have covered it up, whether it was criminal in the first place or not. There--any of these things, and whether or not they knew, in fact, that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative, which is critical in terms of that first thing.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Right, but the broader thrust of whether there was a pattern of discussions with various reporters to try and undermine Wilson actually seems fairly clear now.

CONAN: Owen, thanks for the call.

OWEN: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Tom Rosenstiel, let me ask you one final question before we move on to other stories, and that is after all of this, this was a case where Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail on the basis of protecting a confidential source. As you say, other reporters on the basis of waivers that some might regard as not legit did testify--where's the promise of confidentiality now?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, it's been--damage has been done. First of all, you know, the press here has claimed high principle and when the details are revealed it turns out that there's a lot of personal agenda; it's not all high principle. Her motives are contradictory. I think where we're left--with here is that the public is probably left thinking that the press is--when it claims high principle it's not so clear. I think the chance of our getting a national shield law may actually be enhanced because that would have taken care of this. I also do believe that legitimate sources who are reluctant to talk to the press and who need to be coaxed--real whistle-blowers--are probably going to feel that they cannot be protected as much as they once were. I think there is a chilling effect for the most valuable sources of all.

CONAN: And, David Folkenflik, do we now expect that this is going to be resolved with indictments or not in the next 10 days?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we don't know whether the special prosecutor will conclude that criminal acts were involved in the leaking. We don't know whether or not he'll feel that ancillary obstruction of justice or perjured testimony--we really don't know. We do know that this grand jury expires on October 28th, that if he wants to continue the investigation he'd have to get impaneled the second round. Certainly the administration is girding for the possibility of indictments and perhaps of people as central to their governing, as Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby. But it's just not clear. One of the amazing things about this investigation is how tightly Mr. Fitzgerald has kept his cards to his vest.

CONAN: David Folkenflik, NPR media reporter, thanks very much for being with us. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, thank you as always. They both kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

Coming up, the riots in Toledo over the weekend.

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