The prosecutor in the CIA leak case said more than six months ago that he was not alleging any criminal acts by Vice President Dick Cheney regarding the leak of agency operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Today, the prosecutor is leaving the door open to the possibility that the vice president's now-indicted former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was acting at his boss' behest when Libby allegedly leaked information about Plame to reporters.
A new court filing presents handwritten notes of Cheney. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is using them to assert that the vice president and Libby, working together, were focusing much attention on Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a Bush administration critic.
Cheney's notes ask whether Plame had sent Wilson on a "junket" to Africa. Subsequently, Plame's supposed role in her husbands trip to Africa allegedly was leaked to the media by both Libby and by presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Cheney's notes on the margins of Wilson's opinion column in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, reflect "the contemporaneous reaction of the vice president," Fitzgerald said in the court filing late Friday.
Wilson's column "is relevant to establishing some of the facts that were viewed as important by the defendants immediate superior, including whether Mr. Wilson's wife had "sent him on a junket," the court papers say.
Cheney's notes "support the proposition that publication of the Wilson op-ed acutely focused the attention of the vice president and the defendant, his chief of staff, on Mr. Wilson, on the assertions made in his article, and on responding to those assertions," according to the file.
In the column, Wilson recounted how he had been sent by the CIA in 2002 to the Niger to assess intelligence that Iraq had an agreement to acquire uranium yellowcake from the African country. His conclusion: It was highly doubtful that such a deal existed.
A year later, the intelligence about an Iraq-Niger uranium deal was still being given credence by the administration as it made the case for invading Iraq.
Scribbled in the days leading up to the leaks of Plame's identity, Cheneys notes refer to the CIA and to Wilsons trip, asking, "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. to assess a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"
"I think it's really confirming evidence of what Scooter Libby said to the grand jury, which was that he first heard the name of Valerie Plame from the vice president of the United States," CBS News national political correspondent Gloria Borger said. "You could see in those little scribbles that the vice president was pretty upset."
Accused of lying about how he learned of Plames identity and what he told reporters about her, Libby says Plame's CIA identity was a trivial matter. Libby says he was focused instead on Wilson's accusations that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
In an effort to undercut Libbys defense, Fitzgerald wants to introduce the evidence that refers to Cheney and to Wilsons wife.
At a news conference last October, on the day he obtained an indictment against Libby, Fitzgerald asked a series of rhetorical questions including, "Why were people taking this information about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters?"
Fitzgerald said he does not know the answer because Libby had concealed the truth from investigators. Drawing a baseball analogy putting the prosecutor in the role of baseball umpire, Fitzgerald said, "The umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure out what happened and somebody blocked their view. As you sit here now and if you're asking me what his motives were, I can't tell you."
The Oct. 28 indictment charges Libby with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI.
The language in the indictment provided the first indication that the Libby case might also be a case focusing closely on Cheney.
According to the indictment, Libby acknowledged to investigators that Cheney had told him in June 2003 about Wilson's wife working at the CIA. But Libby, according to the indictment, told the investigators that by the next month, he had forgotten that the vice president had told him about her.
The newly filed court papers disclose substantial new detail about Cheney that was not in the indictment, which did not reveal the fact that Cheney had made handwritten notes about Wilson's wife in the margin of Wilson's column in the Times.