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Context of 'January 2-5, 2004: Fitzgerald Investigators to Ask for Blanket Waivers of Confidentiality from White House Officials'

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Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Federal investigators working with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) will ask White House officials to sign waivers freeing journalists from any pledges of confidentiality they may have granted during discussions about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. A senior administration official says that a number of top aides to President Bush will be asked to sign a one-page form giving permission for journalists to describe any such conversations to investigators, even if the journalists promised not to reveal the source. Bush’s promises of full cooperation will put “tremendous pressure” on the aides to comply, the official says. However, some investigators believe that many journalists will not respect such “blanket waivers,” and will refuse to reveal sources regardless of whether the White House aides sign them or not. The form reads that it is the wish of the White House official that “no member of the media assert any privilege or refuse to answer any questions” about the leak, according to a copy of the form obtained by the press. One aide sent a copy of the form is White House political strategist Karl Rove. [Washington Post, 1/2/2004] By January 5, Bush has not publicly stated that White House officials should, or should not, sign the waivers, according to press secretary Scott McClellan, who directs journalists to steer questions about the forms to the Justice Department. One unnamed government official is more forthcoming, however, calling the forms a “quintessential cover-your-rear-end” move by investigators. “It provides political cover, because you can say you tried everything, and this is a very politically charged environment,” the official says. “There’s no other value to it.” [Washington Post, 1/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs conservative columnist Robert Novak, the author of the column that exposed the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), that he intends to bring waivers of journalistic confidentiality (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources for the column, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8 or 9, 2003) and White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), to a meeting with Novak. Novak will later write, “In other words, the special prosecutor knew the names of my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will speak three times to Fitzgerald’s investigators (see January 14, 2004, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). Novak has already discussed some of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status with FBI investigators (see October 7, 2003). As with the FBI session, the Fitzgerald interview takes place at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing Novak. Fitzgerald comes to the interview with waivers (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources (see January 12, 2004) for his column outing Plame Wilson—White House political strategist Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), as well as a waiver from CIA official Bill Harlow, who asked Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s identity when Novak called him with the information from his other sources that Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see Before July 14, 2003). Novak is uncomfortable in accepting that Fitzgerald’s waivers make it ethically acceptable for him to disclose the three men as his sources, but his lawyer, James Hamilton, says he will almost certainly lose a court challenge as to their propriety. Novak will later write, “I answered questions using the names of Rove, Harlow, and my primary source,” which at the time of his writing had not yet been revealed as Armitage. [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will be questioned again several weeks later (see February 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bill Harlow, James Hamilton, Karl C. Rove, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Swidler Berlin, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lawyers for NBC News reporter and Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert argue that Russert should not have to testify before the Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). Since the spring of 2004, his lawyers have realized that Russert’s testimony could be used to indict White House official Lewis Libby for perjury, as Libby has apparently lied about a conversation he and Russert had in the summer of 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Russert knows that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald already knows of the Russert/Libby conversation (see November 24, 2003), and Libby has already signed a waiver permitting Russert to name him in testimony (see January 2-5, 2004). But Russert and his lawyers argue that he should not have to testify because it might harm his relationship with other sources. According to court papers released in 2006, it “appears that Mr. Russert’s testimony is sought solely because the special prosecutor believes that his recollection of a telephone conversation with an executive branch official is inconsistent with that official’s statements.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2006] On July 21, 2004, the court will deny Russert’s motion. [MSNBC, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: NBC News, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler is interviewed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as part of Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. Kessler has agreed to give a deposition concerning two of his telephone conversations with Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, on July 12 (see July 12, 2003) and July 18, 2003. Libby and other White House aides have signed waivers releasing Kessler and other journalists from any confidentiality agreements they may have concerning Plame Wilson (see January 2-5, 2004). Kessler tells Fitzgerald that Libby did not mention Plame Wilson or her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, during their conversations. He says that without the waiver he would have refused to testify; Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says the agreement to allow Kessler to be deposed was “reached in a way so that we are not violating any confidential source agreements, and we will never do so willingly.” Kessler’s deposition takes place in the presence of Post lawyers, at a law office, and not before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. [Washington Post, 6/23/2004; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Glenn Kessler, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Thomas Hogan holds New York Times reporter Judith Miller in contempt for refusing to answer a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see August 12, 2004 and After). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 11/19/2009] Hogan orders Miller jailed for up to 18 months after she informs him she will not answer questions from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about her conversations with officials. In turn, Hogan says Miller has no special right as a reporter to defy a subpoena in a criminal investigation. Hogan rules that he is satisfied Fitzgerald has exhausted other avenues of determining key information about the Plame Wilson identity leak, and that his questioning of journalists is a last resort rather than a “fishing expedition,” as the Times has argued. “The special counsel has made a limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter,” Hogan says. He goes on to note that journalists’ promise to protect their sources is outweighed by the government’s duty to investigate a serious crime. In a 1972 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters called before a criminal grand jury. “We have a classic confrontation between conflicting interests,” Hogan says. Miller remains free on bond while the Times appeals his decision. After the ruling, Miller tells a group of reporters: “It’s really frightening when journalists can be put in jail for doing their job effectively. This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won’t come forward, and the public won’t be informed.” Times executive editor Bill Keller says he is disturbed that Bush administration officials had been asked by their superiors in this case to sign waivers of confidentiality agreements with reporters (see January 2-5, 2004). “This is going to become all the rage in corporate and government circles,” he says. “It’s really spooky.” [CBS News, 10/7/2004; Washington Post, 10/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Bill Keller, Thomas Hogan, Bush administration (43), Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Thomas Hogan.Judge Thomas Hogan. [Source: Washington City Paper]A federal judge orders New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who continues to refuse to comply with a subpoena in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case (see December 30, 2003), to go to jail until she or the Times complies. Time magazine and its reporter Matthew Cooper have already agreed to comply with the subpoena, thereby sparing Cooper jail time (see July 1, 2005 and July 6, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Refusal to Reveal Sources - Miller tells Judge Thomas Hogan: “Your Honor, in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history.… The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries, but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.… If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press.” Her attorney says, “Judy’s view is that any purported waiver she got from anyone (see January 2-5, 2004) was not on the face of it sufficiently broad, clear, and uncoerced.” Hogan, in sharp disagreement, calls Miller’s decision not to testify a possible “obstruction of justice.” [New York Times, 7/6/2005; New York Times, 7/7/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] He seems moved by Miller’s impassioned speech until she invokes her time in Iraq. At that point, according to reporter Marie Brenner, his face darkens. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later say, “Ms. Miller has great respect for the military who served in Iraq, as we should all do, but if one of those officers’ [lives] was compromised by the leak of classified information, we would want to see that justice was done.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Hogan says Miller can leave the jail any time she likes. “She has the keys to release herself,” he says. “She has a waiver [from her source] she chooses not to recognize” (see January 2-5, 2004 and August 12, 2004 and After). She can “avoid even a minute of separation from her husband if she would do no more than just follow the law like every other citizen in America is required to do.” When Miller’s lawyers ask for home detention and denial of e-mail and cell phone access instead of incarceration, Hogan dryly retorts, referring to Miller’s extensive time spent in Iraq: “Certainly one who can handle the desert in wartime is far better equipped than the average person jailed in a federal facility.… Forced vacation at a comfortable home is not a compelling form of coercion.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] Miller will later tell a colleague: “I was told to put my medications in a Baggie, to understand that I would have no makeup, no personal items except for my pills.” Her lawyers tell her, “You are going in one door of the courthouse and out another.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
'Draconian Act' - Times editor Bill Keller calls Miller’s incarceration “a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case,” and Fitzgerald’s decision to jail the reporter a “draconian act” that punishes “an honorable journalist” and will “serve future cover-ups of information that happens in the recesses of government and other powerful institutions.” Keller praises Miller’s “determination to honor her professional commitment,” noting that her defiance of the subpoenas “is not an attempt to put herself above the law. The law presented Judy with the choice between betraying a trust to a confidential source or going to jail. The choice she made is a brave and principled choice, and it reflects a valuing of individual conscience that has been part of this country’s tradition since its founding.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Marie Brenner, New York Times, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Thomas Hogan, Time magazine, Bill Keller

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, writes jailed reporter Judith Miller (see July 6, 2005) a chatty two-page letter that asserts he had wanted her to testify about their conversations all along. Miller is jailed pending her reversal of a decision not to reveal Libby as a confidential source; Libby had told Miller that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby’s letter comes after rounds of intensive negotiations between his lawyers, Miller’s lawyer Robert Bennett, and special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Libby says that he is glad to grant Miller a waiver of confidentiality which will allow her to testify about their conversations (see September 12, 2005), and says that a year earlier his lawyer had assured her lawyer that he had then waived confidentiality (see January 2-5, 2004). He reassures her that his decision to waive confidentiality is completely voluntary, and says he will actually be “better off” if she testifies. In conclusion, Libby writes: “You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover—Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work—and life.” [Libby, 9/15/2005 pdf file; New York Times, 9/29/2005] Miller will deny any hidden meaning in Libby’s last few lines, and deny to Fitzgerald that Libby attempted to “shape” her testimony in any way through the letter. [New York Times, 10/16/2005] Bennett will say he does not believe that Libby was trying to influence Miller’s testimony, but knew as soon as he read his letter that it would “be trouble” for her. “I know that the letter bothered [Judy] and it bothered me,” Bennett says. “She might be soon testifying, and a prosecutor might construe that as an attempt to influence her testimony. It was more probably just sort of a dumb thing to put in a letter.” Bennett will add: “I think it is important that Judy was protecting a source in terms of source confidentiality and the journalistic privilege. She was not protecting a source to prevent someone from going to jail. The letter just didn’t help matters.” [National Journal, 10/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Robert T. Bennett, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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