The prosecutor in the CIA leak probe had a confidential lunchtime meeting with a federal judge Wednesday after a grand jury listened to three hours of testimony in the case that has ensnared top White House aides.
The grand jury's term expires on Friday, and the panel adjourned for the day without announcing any charges or other action. The administrative assistant to Thomas Hogan, the chief judge of U.S. District Court in the nation's capital, confirmed Hogan's meeting with. The assistant, Sheldon Snook, declined to comment on what was discussed.
CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts reports that Fitzgerald was not asking for a grand jury extension during his meeting with the federal judge, leaving people to wonder whether he was seeking sealed indictments, or something else.
No witnesses were seen going into the grand jury area, only Fitzgerald and his deputies.
The prosecutor is known to be putting the finishing touches on a two-year criminal investigation that has involved President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.
Lawyers representing White House officials expect Fitzgerald to decide this week whether to charge Libby and Rove. There was no word on whether the grand jury planned to meet Thursday.
Away from the federal courthouse, FBI agents conducted a handful of last-minute interviews to check facts key to the case.
Rove and Libby joined other administration officials Wednesday at the daily White House senior staff meeting, as usual. Libby has been on crutches after breaking a bone in his foot.
Former presidential adviser David Gergen told CBS News that "Washington is on a knife-edge today over the possibility of indictments." He said the possible charges raise major issues for the administration.
"It's not that the abuse of power here is anything like Watergate or Iran-Contra even," said Gergen, now the director of Harvard's Center For Public Leadership. "Rather it is, if indictments come, they may be of the people closest to the president and vice president of the United States. And they will re-open the wounds of Iraq, and people will ask the question, if indictments come, were we led into Iraq by criminal means?"
Fitzgerald could charge one or more administration aides with violating a law prohibiting the intentional unmasking of an undercover CIA officer.
The prosecutor has also examined other possible crimes such as mishandling classified information, making false statements or obstruction of justice.
Fitzgerald has been in Washington since Monday and over the past two days dispatched FBI agents to conduct 11th-hour interviews, according to lawyers close to the investigation, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
One set of interviews occurred in the neighborhood of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was revealed as an undercover CIA officer. Roberts reports that investigators talked to Plame's neighbors, including Marc Lefkowitz who was interviewed Monday night.
"They said, 'Did you know Valerie Plame's identity?' and I said, 'No,'" Lefkowitz said.
Two lawyers familiar with the activities said the interviews involved basic fact-checking and did not appear to plow new ground.
Fitzgerald may want to establish that Plame had carefully protected her CIA identity, part of the process of determining whether the disclosure of her name amounted to a crime.
Adding to the administration's discomfort,is now alleged to be a player in this case, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.
According to some who have testified, Libby told the grand jury that he first learned Plame's name from reporters. But it was the vice president, according to a New York Times report, who mentioned Plame's CIA connection to Libby on June 12, 2003, a month before her name became public.
The name of Rove, the president's most powerful adviser, is also in the mix of top officials who may be slapped by the grand jury. The Los Angeles Times reports that prosecutors questioned a former West Wing colleague of Rove's about contacts he had with reporters leading up to the leak.
If such officials as Rove or Libby are named by the grand jury, President Bush will need to get replacements quickly,
"Historically there have been a lot of turnovers in the White House. This one hasn't had many," Rollins said.
Columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's name on July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson said publicly that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
The timing of Wilson's criticism was devastating for the Bush White House, which was struggling to come to grips with the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.
President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was the administration's main argument for going to war.