New York Times reporter Judith Miller breaks silence on Plame leak investigation

Monday, October 17, 2005

New York Times reporter Judith Miller broke her media silence by writing a column the newspaper published on Sunday. Her lengthy story recounted two testimonies, September 30 and October 12, she gave to a U.S. federal grand jury seeking information on the source of the Valerie Plame leak. The column described the testimony as one that relied heavily on her reporting notes given to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald between her first and second appearances.

By her account, after the two years that had passed from the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame and the sketchy recollections she was able to re-create from her notes, she testified that she could not recall why, when, or where the name "Valerie Flame"[sic] came from in her notes. Furthermore, she wrote of her testimony that she did not believe the name came from "Scooter" Libby.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is the chief of staff to Dick Cheney, vice-president of the United States. Libby, along with Karl Rove, are two high ranking administration insiders suspected of slipping information to the press in an effort to undermine Plame's husband Joe Wilson, the former ambassador to Niger who denied a White House claim that Iraq was trying to buy enriched uranium, a claim made by President George W. Bush to support the build up to the war in Iraq.

The mistaken spelling, Miller explained, was made in a section of her notes unrelated to the interviews with Libby. Other notes documented 3 interviews with Libby, conducted in the year 2003, that in her NYT column she wrote:

June 23) ... Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time. I wrote in my notes, inside parentheses, "Wife works in bureau?" I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I believed this was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A.

July 8) ... our conversation also turned to Mr. Wilson's wife. My notes contain a phrase inside parentheses: "Wife works at Winpac."
... first time I had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative.

July 12 (telephone) ... I might have called others about Mr. Wilson's wife. In my notebook I had written the words "Victoria Wilson" with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.

These notes were written shortly before the Robert Novak story on July 14 was published, revealing Valerie Plame, and after which the controversy was ignited. Asked by prosecutor Fitzgerald how she felt about the Novak story, she wrote that she was "annoyed at having been beaten on a story."

Before she agreed to testify, and thereby be released jail, she sought from Libby his personal assurance that his pre-existing waiver of confidentiality was not forced upon him by outside pressure. She also sought an agreement from Fitzgerald that grand jury questioning would be restricted in scope to questions relating only directly to her interviews with Libby.

Both of these, the assurance from Libby and the limited scope by Fitzgerald, were granted; but why she thought she needed them is open to question. Critics are skeptical of what motives are driving Miller, and wonder if she has something to hide or is protecting Libby. In the absence of road blocks to testifying that she herself made, the 85 days she spent in jail would otherwise not have been imposed.

Fitzgerald had been planning to wrap up the investigation sometime this month when the grand jury term expires October 28.