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CIA leak probe 'widening to include use of intelligence'

Caroline Daniel and Edward Alden / Financial Times | October 18 2005

Evidence is building that the probe conducted by Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor, has extended beyond the leaking of a covert CIA agent's name to include questioning about the administration's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence.

According to the Democratic National Committee, a majority of the nine members of the White House Iraq Group have been questioned by Mr Fitzgerald. The team, which included senior national security officials, was created in August 2002 to “educate the public” about the risk posed by weapons of mass destruction on Iraq.

Mr Fitzgerald, who has been applauded for conducting a leak-free inquiry, has said little publicly about his 22-month probe, other than that it is about the “potential retaliation against a whistleblower”, Joseph Wilson. After Mr Wilson, a former ambassador, went public with doubts about the evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons, the name of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA official, was leaked to reporters.

The prosecutor has given no indication whether he will charge anyone in the case. At the weekend Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for 85 days after refusing to testify, provided new details about the scope of Mr Fitzgerald's investigation. She was asked “repeatedly” how Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, “handled classified information”.

Ms Miller said Mr Libby had made “a sharp critique of Mr Wilson”, and referred several times to the fact his wife worked at the CIA. Ms Miller also expressed surprise at a letter sent by Mr Libby when she was in jail that, she said, could imply he was trying to influence her testimony. “I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr Libby to suggest that I too would say we had not discussed Ms Plame. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job,” she wrote.

According to Time magazine, both Mr Libby and Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's chief political adviser, who has appeared four times before the grand jury, would resign or take unpaid leave if indicted for their role in the case.

Mr Rove has been adopting a lower profile, backing out of two public speeches over the last week. However, Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, said yesterday: “Karl is here at the White House doing his duties, as he always does.”

The US failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq resulted in two inquiries into the prewar intelligence, one led by the Senate intelligence committee and the other by a White House-appointed panel.

But both panels confined themselves to investigating the intelligence community, concluding that the White House was largely the innocent victim of faulty intelligence. Neither delved into the political use of the available intelligence by the administration.

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