Report: Libby first learned about Plame from Cheney

Libby's notes implicate his boss and appear to contradict his own testimony.

Published October 25, 2005 3:40AM (EDT)

"They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them."

At various times over the course of the Valerie Plame investigation, it has been reported that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby told prosecutors that they learned of Plame's identity from journalists. In July, a source told Bloomberg News that Libby had told Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned about Plame from Tim Russert. At about the same time, a source told the Washington Post that Rove had told investigators that he thought he first learned about Plame from a reporter whose identity he couldn't recall. And just last week, sources told the Post and the AP that Libby and Rove discussed Plame's identity among themselves before Bob Novak revealed it in his column -- but that the two men discussed only information reporters had given them.

The truth? Lawyers involved in the case tell the New York Times that Libby first learned of Plame's identity from Vice President Dick Cheney. According to the Times, Fitzgerald has obtained notes written by Libby that show that he and Cheney had a conversation in which Cheney told him that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and may have helped arrange his trip to Niger. The conversation happened weeks before Novak's column appeared, the Times says.

The significance? First, as the Times explains, the notes "place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war." Cheney's conversation with Libby may not have violated any laws -- as the Times notes, both men presumably have security clearances that authorize their access to such information -- but evidence of the conversation underscores the breadth of White House concerns about Wilson and sheds light on what increasingly appears to be the broad scope of Fitzgerald's investigation. According to Libby's notes, Cheney learned about Plame from former CIA Director George Tenet.

Second -- and assuming that Cheney himself isn't in legal jeopardy, more important -- the existence of the notes would seem to make it much more likely that Fitzgerald will bring a perjury, obstruction of justice or false statement charge against Libby. If Fitzgerald is building such a case against the vice president's chief of staff, he couldn't ask for better evidence than notes, taken by Libby himself, that contradict the testimony Libby gave to the grand jury.

Next question: Where did Karl Rove really learn about Valerie Plame?

By Tim Grieve

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

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