Indictment choices for the CIA leak
WASHINGTON — This is, so help me, my last comment on the tangled web of the CIA leak until we get some hard news from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, whose two years of investigation have now lasted longer than the Watergate inquiry.
Some word may come soon - now that Judith Miller, the last of the journalists involved, has been heard from. So let's recall how it all started.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush, on the defensive because of his inability to find weapons of mass destruction to justify the coming war, said he had heard from the British that Saddam Hussein had sought "significant quantities of uranium in Africa."
In the face of widespread doubts, the CIA was asked to send someone to Niger to confirm the assertion. The agency chose former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an old Africa hand. He spent eight days in Niger and found ... nothing. He then had the temerity to write in the New York Times that the administration was practicing deliberate deception.
That must have enraged administration officials, who launched what looks like a retaliatory strike, letting several journalists know that Mr. Wilson had been chosen for the assignment by his wife who worked for the CIA.
It is not clear whether they disclosed her name, Valerie Plame, and her undercover status in the CIA. A secret State Department memo had warned about such disclosure.
Columnist Robert Novak, the first to reveal Ms. Plame's name and status, said he had two government sources.
So what courses are open to Prosecutor Fitzgerald? Indictment under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act - if it can be established that unmasking Ms. Plame was a deliberate act. Short of that, there could be an indictment for conspiracy, which is defined as acting toward a criminal end, such as leaking security information.
How high could indictments go? Despite earlier denials of involvement, it is now clear that presidential assistant Karl Rove and vice- presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby had some role in inviting reporters to dig further.
Could this go higher? The prosecutor interviewed President Bush and Vice President Cheney at some length. It is not publicly known if they are implicated.
It may be remembered that the Watergate grand jury wanted to indict President Nixon for obstruction of justice. When advised that a sitting president could not be prosecuted, the grand jury named him as an unindicted coconspirator.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.