As Plame probe winds down, Cheney's office is a focus

Was Scooter Libby really acting on his own? Has Patrick Fitzgerald flipped an insider?

Published October 18, 2005 12:44PM (EDT)

As the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame nears its end, there's more evidence this morning that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is looking closely at the role played by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. While no one is saying yet that Cheney himself is a "target" of the investigation, two newspapers report this morning that Fitzgerald is focusing on what the vice president knew about the Plame affair.

The New York Daily News, relying on a source and a reporter who have testified before the grand jury, says that Fitzgerald is "pursuing Cheney's role" in the case. The Daily News notes that six current or former Cheney staffers have appeared before the grand jury and that Cheney himself has hired a lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, a partner at the high-powered Washington firm Williams & Connolly.

The Daily News suggests that Cheney and Scooter Libby work so closely together that it's impossible that Cheney was unaware that Libby was helping to spread the word about Plame. And relying on a source who has testified in the probe, the paper says that Fitzgerald has someone -- a "senior cooperating witness" -- helping him connect the dots inside the Bush administration and among members of the White House Iraq Group.

The Washington Post offers a more robustly sourced but less explosive report. Relying on lawyers involved in the case as well as "government officials," the Post says that Fitzgerald has "zeroed in" on the role Cheney's office played in the leaks and discovered evidence that Cheney's "long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame."

The Post says that Fitzgerald has asked grand jury witnesses -- and not just Judith Miller -- to explain "what Cheney may have known about the effort to push back against ex-diplomat and Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, including the leak of his wife's position at the CIA." Still, the Post says, Fitzgerald seems to be "focused more" on the role played by Cheney's top aides, including Libby.

Fitzgerald's grand jury term expires next week. The Post says the prosecutor could announce his decisions about indictments -- or not -- as early as tomorrow.

By Tim Grieve

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

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