A special counsel is focusing on whether Vice President Dick Cheney played a role in leaking classified CIA information, according to people familiar with the probe that already threatens top White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis Libby.
The special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, has questioned current and former officials of President George W. Bush's administration about whether Cheney was involved in an effort to discredit the agent's husband, Iraq war critic and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, according to the people.
Fitzgerald has questioned Cheney's communications adviser Catherine Martin and former spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise and ex-White House aide Jim Wilkinson about the vice president's knowledge of the anti-Wilson campaign and his dealings on it with Libby, his chief of staff, the people said. The information came from multiple sources, who requested anonymity because of the secrecy and political sensitivity of the investigation.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has now testified twice before a federal grand jury probing the case after spending 85 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald, wrote in yesterday's New York Times that Fitzgerald asked her whether the vice president "had known what his chief aide," Libby, "was doing and saying" regarding Wilson, a critic of the war in Iraq, reports Bloomberg.
While Fitzgerald could try to charge administration officials with knowingly revealing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, several lawyers in the case said he was more likely to seek charges for conspiracy and easier-to-prove crimes such as disclosing classified information, making false statements, obstruction and perjury.
Fitzgerald could also decide that no crime was committed.
Plame's diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, says White House officials outed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.
"Fitzgerald is putting together a big case, and he's looking for little pieces of a puzzle," Robert Bennett, the lead attorney for New York Times reporter Judith Miller, said on ABC's "This Week."
Miller spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify and published an account of her grand jury testimony in Sunday's New York Times.
Legal sources said Rove could be vulnerable to a perjury charge for not initially telling the grand jury that he talked to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame, informs Reuters.