How Scooter Libby fits in -- and the big question still out there

Dick Cheney's chief of staff reportedly talked twice with Judith Miller about Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger. But who leaked first to Robert Novak?

Published September 30, 2005 1:58PM (EDT)

So we know that Judith Miller will testify before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury today, and we know that the subject of her testimony will be her discussions with Scooter Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. What we don't know -- what we may not know immediately -- is what she'll say. Here are some clues.

Relying on the word of sources who are familiar with Libby's side of the story, the Washington Post says the subject of Joseph Wilson's wife came up twice in conversations between Libby and Miller shortly after Wilson's New York Times Op-Ed appeared on July 6, 2003. As we've noted before, the first conversation took place on July 8, 2003. In that conversation, the Post says, Miller asked Libby why Wilson had been chosen to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. The Post says that Libby told Miller that the White House was working with the CIA to learn more about why Wilson was sent to Niger and that he had heard that his wife had something to do with it -- but that he didn't know who Wilson's wife was or where she worked.

That conversation occurred on the same day that Karl Rove confirmed for Robert Novak that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

The second Miller-Libby conversation took place on July 12 or July 13. In that conversation, the Post says, Libby told Miller that he had learned that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and played a role in sending him on the Niger trip -- the same story Novak would lay out in his column on July 14, 2003.

Even at the time of that second conversation, the Post's sources say that Libby didn't know Plame's name or that she was a covert operative. Maybe that's right, but maybe this is a good time to remember what White House press secretary Scott McClellan once said about Libby's role in outing Plame. In a White House press briefing on Oct. 10, 2003, McClellan said he'd spoken with Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams, and that he'd been assured by each of them that they weren't involved in outing Plame. "Those individuals -- I talked -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that's where it stands."

Well, that's where it stood. Since that time, we've learned that Rove leaked to both Novak and Cooper. We've learned that Libby leaked to Cooper, and now we're getting confirmation that Libby leaked to Miller, too. But here's a question for which we don't have an answer yet: Who leaked to Novak in the first place? Rove provided Novak confirmation of Plame's identity, but Novak has said that some other "senior administration official" tipped him off to the story first. The Post's sources say it wasn't Libby. If that's true, there's still at least one more shoe still to drop, and it belongs to someone who works -- or worked -- for the president of the United States.

By Tim Grieve

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

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