What did the vice president know, and when did he know it?

Patrick Fitzgerald wants to know what role the vice president played in the outing of Valerie Plame.

Published October 17, 2005 12:12PM (EDT)

There are all sorts of threads hanging from the New York Times' account of Judy Miller's role in the Valerie Plame story, and one that seems worth pulling is this: Why did special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald ask Judy Miller if Dick Cheney was aware of what Scooter Libby was saying and doing about Joseph Wilson?

The Times says today that the question suggests that Fitzgerald "could be investigating a possible conspiracy to disclose Ms. Wilson's identity." Bloomberg News goes a step further: It says that Cheney's role in Plame's outing has become a focus of Fitzgerald's investigation.

Bloomberg says that Miller isn't the only one to be asked about what the vice president knew. As we've noted previously, Libby has apparently told Fitzgerald's grand jury that he asked Cheney how to handle reporters' inquiries about Wilson. Bloomberg says that Fitzgerald has also asked Cheney's communications advisor, Catherine Martin, his former spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise, and former White House aide Jim Wilkinson about Cheney's "knowledge of the anti-Wilson campaign and his dealings on it with Libby."

Like the Times, however, Bloomberg can offer only guesses about what it all means. It notes that Miller's lawyer, Bob Bennett, said over the weekend that he thought Fitzgerald is "putting together a big case." And it reminds us -- and this is a point always worth remembering -- that District Judge Thomas Hogan and three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals wouldn't have sent Miller to jail if they didn't think Fitzgerald was on to something big.

How big? Nobody knows for sure, at least nobody outside of Fitzgerald's legal team. Fitzgerald has 10 days before his grand jury turns into a pumpkin, and the pace of his work now suggests that he intends to do whatever he's going to do before that happens. Bloomberg's legal experts say that criminal charges are likely. But which ones? And against whom?

Libby and Karl Rove would appear to be the most likely targets, and Bloomberg says to expect anything from a "broad conspiracy case to more narrowly drawn indictments for obstruction of justice or perjury." What about Cheney? One legal expert tells Bloomberg that Fitzgerald "would have to show the vice president was an active participant in a decision to smear Wilson." Assuming that Miller is telling the truth -- and really, given what the Times itself has said about her now, that's a qualifier one has to attach to anything she says -- she didn't give Fitzgerald that kind of evidence herself. But have any of the other grand jury witnesses implicated Cheney in the outing of Valerie Plame? We should know the answer to that question soon.

By Tim Grieve

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

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