New York Times reporter testified on Wednesday to a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity about a previously undisclosed conversation with a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
In her second appearance before the grand jury, Times reporter Judith Miller was questioned for more than an hour after turning over notes detailing her June 23, 2003, conversation with Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby. An entry in her notes referred to Joseph Wilson, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's diplomat husband.
Hours after Miller completed her testimony, a federal judge lifted the contempt-of-court order that had sent her to jail for 85 days for refusing to reveal her source, the Times said.
Miller's testimony about the June 2003 conversation could help federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald establish whether the White House started targeting Wilson and possibly his wife in the weeks before Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq, reports Reuters.
Wilson was sent on a CIA-funded mission to Niger in 2002 at the suggestion of his wife to investigate whether Iraq had sought to buy nuclear weapons-grade material in Niger. Libby and Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, have testified that they each discussed Plame with two reporters in July of 2003 but never mentioned her by name or her covert status at the agency, according to lawyers involved in the case.
The two officials have testified that they were trying to wave reporters off Wilson's allegation.
The June 23 conversation would be significant if Miller and Libby discussed Plame, the lawyers in the case said. If they did, it could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby was involved in an administration effort to unmask Plame weeks before she was publicly outed by conservative columnist Robert D. Novak in the middle of July.
As early as May of that year, Cheney's office was actively seeking information about Wilson from the CIA, according to former senior administration officials. Libby was aware of the diplomat and his mission by the time he talked with a Washington Post reporter in early June.
By then one month before Plame was unmasked the State Department had prepared a memo on the Niger mission that contained information in a section marked "(S)" for secret. Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, brought the memo on a trip to Africa by President Bush in the days before Novak's column was published, informs Washington Post.