Did John Bolton have a hand in outing Valerie Plame?

Arianna Huffington says she's got sources who say that Bolton's chief of staff was a source.

Published September 21, 2005 12:38PM (EDT)

John Bolton took time out from his busy schedule recently to check in on New York Times reporter Judy Miller at the Alexandria Detention Facility, where she's been held since July 6 for refusing to testify before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury in the Valerie Plame case.

Was the visit something more than social? Arianna Huffington seems to think so. In an item posted last night, Huffington says she's got two sources who say that Bolton's former chief of staff, a career CIA agent named Fred Fleitz, "was at least one of the sources of the classified information about Valerie Plame that flowed through the Bush administration" and into Bob Novak's column.

Huffington doesn't say who her sources are or even how they'd be in a position to know whether Fleitz was involved in outing Plame, and her supporting case is based mostly on a theory about motive and opportunity. Huffington says that, while working as Bolton's chief of staff, Fleitz also worked in the CIA's WINPAC division, "the group responsible for some of the worst prewar intelligence on Iraq." When Joe Wilson started questioning the accuracy of that intelligence, Fleitz would have had an interest in shutting him down and maybe knowledge about Plame's work for the CIA, too.

So what about Bolton? Huffington says that he's not the kind of guy who would tolerate freelancing by his aides, which is to say that he'd know if his chief of staff was leaking on Plame. And she notes that, so far as we know, he hasn't been questioned by Fitzgerald's grand jury. Huffington reads that tea leaf as evidence that Bolton may be a target of Fitzgerald's probe. As a lawyer who does work for the Times tells Huffington, "The target of a grand jury investigation would not ordinarily be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury."

Of course, people who had nothing to do with the case also wouldn't normally be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. So at this point, not knowing the credibility of Huffington's sources, it's hard to know how much stock should be invested in her tale.

Still, the Washington Post seemed to give some credence to a Bolton theory over the weekend in the course of reporting on Miller's parade of high-profile jailhouse visitors. Saying that Bolton's visit had "raised some eyebrows in Washington," the Post reminded its readers that Bolton was a "vocal defender" of Bush administration claims that Iraq was seeking WMDs and could have had access to a State Department memo that identified Plame. Bolton declined to discuss the visit with the Post. "This has nothing to do with his job here," his spokesman told the paper. "He doesn't want to talk about it."

When will we know more? We don't even know that much yet. Fitzgerald's grand jury is supposed to come to an end on Oct. 28, but it's always possible that the prosecutor will seek to extend the term or impanel another grand jury.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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