February 10, 2004
Top Bush Aide Is Questioned in C.I.A. Leak
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 - President Bush's press secretary and a former White
House press aide testified on Friday to a federal grand jury investigating
who improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer, the press
secretary and a lawyer for the aide said on Monday.
The appearances of the press secretary, Scott McClellan, and the press aide,
Adam Levine, reflected what lawyers in the case said was the quickening pace
of a criminal inquiry in which a special prosecutor is examining
conversations between journalists and the White House.
When he was asked by reporters on Monday whether he had been questioned in
the case, Mr. McClellan said he had been filmed by news organizations as he
emerged from the federal courthouse. "I think that confirms it for you," he
On Monday, a lawyer for Mr. Levine said the White House aide had also
appeared on Friday.
Mr. Levine left the Bush administration in December after working as the
principal liaison between the White House and television networks. Mr.
Levine's lawyer, Daniel J. French, said, "In keeping with the president's
request, Mr. Levine is cooperating with the Justice Department's
investigation and in doing so appeared before the grand jury on Friday."
In addition to the grand jury appearances, which are believed to include
other Bush administration officials, prosecutors have conducted meetings
with presidential aides that lawyers in the case described as tense and
Armed with handwritten White House notes, detailed cellphone logs and copies
of e-mail messages between White House aides and reporters, prosecutors have
demanded explanations of conversations between aides and reporters for some
of the country's largest news organizations that under ordinary
circumstances would never be publicly discussed. So far, no reporter has
been questioned or subpoenaed.
One set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their
meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis
Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security
adviser. Prosecutors have described the notes as "copious," the lawyers
said. In addition, the prosecutors have asked about cellphone calls made
last July to and from Catherine J. Martin, a press secretary for Mr. Cheney.
In their discussions with White House aides, prosecutors have been careful
to avoid signaling their overall theory of the case. Nor have they given
hints about who they suspect leaked the information to Robert Novak, who
wrote in a Washington Post column last July 14 that the wife of former
Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the administration's Iraq
policy, was Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. undercover officer.
Mr. Wilson traveled to Africa in February 2002 at the C.I.A.'s request, but
found no evidence to support the conclusion that Niger may have supplied raw
uranium ore to Iraq in the 1990's. In an opinion article published in The
New York Times on July 6, 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote, "It did not take long to
conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever
The lawyers said that prosecutors have cited evidence that White House
officials were extremely upset by Mr. Wilson's article and were angry at the
C.I.A. for sending him to Africa, in contrast to the White House's effort to
portray the reaction as only mildly concerned.
Even so, the lawyers said, the prosecutors have not indicated whether they
have any evidence that White House aides planned to take concerted action
against Mr. Wilson by disclosing his wife's name and job.
But prosecutors have said they would charge White House aides with
obstruction of justice or false statements if they failed to provide
truthful statements about specific conversations that some aides could not
clearly recall among the hundreds of conversations with some White House
reporters, the lawyers said.
Prosecutors have emphasized the seriousness of the case, informing the White
House employees that they are "subjects" of the inquiry. In legal
terminology, a subject is in potentially greater jeopardy of being accused
of a crime than a witness. But a subject is in a less threatening situation
than a target, someone who may expect to be charged.
The grand jury inquiry has accelerated at the same time that a group of
former C.I.A. officers and some lawmakers have demanded a Congressional
investigation into the leak. But so far, Republican leaders in the House and
Senate have not initiated the inquiry.
The case began last year when the C.I.A. referred the matter to the Justice
Department, which conducted a three-month preliminary investigation into
whether anyone in the Bush administration violated a federal law by
intentionally revealing the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer.
In December, Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the case
after months of complaints by Democrats who said he could not fairly
supervise an inquiry into Republican political allies at the White House.
At the time, James Comey, the deputy attorney general, referred the case to
Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago. Mr. Fitzgerald
has brought in as his deputy Ron Roos, a career prosecutor in the Justice
Department's national security section, and Peter Zeidenberg, a prosecutor
in the public integrity section, which investigates political corruption
Mr. Fitzgerald has sought to conduct the inquiry in secrecy. He has asked
each White House employee to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not
to disclose the questions asked by prosecutors.
Several lawyers said they had refused to let their clients sign the
agreements, unwilling to create an additional legal liability voluntarily.
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald, declined to discuss the
At first, the investigation seemed narrowly focused on trying to identify
who at the White House provided the information about Ms. Plame to Mr.
Novak. But more recently, prosecutors have focused on a Sept. 28, 2003,
article in The Washington Post, which said the newspaper had been told that
"yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column
ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington
journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."
Prosecutors, referring to the story as "one by two by six," have sought to
learn the identity of the senior administration official or the two top
White House officials, believing that whoever provided the information to
the Post knew who spoke with Mr. Novak.