WASHINGTON – Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff discussed with New York Times correspondent Judith Miller the fact that the wife of a White House critic worked for the CIA on three occasions before the wife, Valerie Plame, was publicly identified, according to Miller’s account in the Times today.
During two of the 2003 conversations with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Miller said, she wrote versions of Plame’s name in her notebook, although she believes the name came from another confidential source she said she cannot recall.
In a disclosure that could figure in special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation, Miller said she initially refused to testify about her discussions with Libby because she believed he was signaling her that she should not cooperate in the CIA leak investigation unless her account would clear him. Miller was jailed for 85 days for refusing to testify about Libby, until she reached an accommodation last month with Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has been investigating whether any administration officials broke the law by disclosing the identity of a covert CIA operative. Lawyers involved in the case have said they believe he is investigating other potential crimes, such as whether there was a conspiracy in the administration to discredit Plame’s husband and White House critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV. A grand jury examining the issue expires on Oct. 28.
In the first on-the-record account of what she told a federal grand jury in two recent appearances, Miller described a meeting on June 23, 2003, with Libby in the Old Executive Office Building. She said Libby had told her that Wilson’s wife worked for a CIA bureau called Winpac, for weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control. Miller said she testified, however, that Libby did not refer to Plame by name or mention her covert status.
This conversation – for which Miller only recently found her notes – occurred when Wilson had not yet gone public with his criticism that President Bush had exaggerated evidence that Iraq was seeking weapons of mass destruction.
On July 8, 2003 – two days after Wilson went public with his criticism – Miller had breakfast with Libby at the St. Regis Hotel. Her notebook from that day includes the notation “Valerie Flame,” but she says the name appeared in a different section of the notebook from her Libby interview notes and that she believes it came from another source.
That raises the question of whether other administration officials discussed Plame’s CIA status with Miller after Libby, by her account, was the first to raise it. By the time she and Libby discussed Plame again, by phone on July 12, Miller said, she had talked about Wilson’s wife – her notes from that conversation refer incorrectly to “Victoria Wilson” – with other unidentified sources. Fitzgerald lost the opportunity to question Miller about these sources by agreeing, as part of the deal that led to her release from jail last month, to ask only about conversations with Libby.
It is not known precisely what Libby has told the grand jury. A source close to the Cheney aide has said that Libby did acknowledge discussing Wilson’s wife with Miller but that he never knew Plame’s name nor her covert status.
The probe was triggered after syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote on July 14, 2003, that “two senior administration officials” had told him Plame was a CIA operative who had helped arrange her husband’s 2002 fact-finding mission to Niger, to investigate whether Iraq had sought to buy weapons-grade uranium there.