By Adam Entous
A New York Times reporter has given investigators notes from a conversation she had with a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney weeks earlier than was previously known, suggesting White House involvement started well before the outing of a CIA operative, legal sources said.
Times reporter Judith Miller discovered the notes -- about a June 2003 conversation she had with Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- after her testimony before the grand jury last week, the sources said on Friday. She turned the notes over to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and is expected to meet him again next Tuesday, the sources said.
Miller's notes could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby had started talking to reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, weeks before Wilson publicly criticized the administration's Iraq policy in a Times opinion piece, the sources said.
Wilson asserts that administration officials leaked his wife's identity, which damaged her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for criticizing President George W. Bush's Iraq policy in 2003, after a CIA-funded trip to investigate whether Niger helped supply nuclear materials to Baghdad.
One source involved in the investigation said Miller's notes could help Fitzgerald show a long-running and orchestrated campaign to discredit Wilson, which could help form the basis for a conspiracy charge.
Fitzgerald has yet to indicate whether or not he intends to bring indictments, but lawyers close to the investigation said there were signs he may be moving in that direction.
Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, plans to make a fourth appearance before the grand jury next week and prosecutors have told him they can make no guarantees he won't be indicted.
The outcome could shake up an administration reeling from criticism over its response to Hurricane Katrina and the indictment of House of Representatives Republican leader Tom DeLay of Texas on charges related to campaign financing.
The White House had long maintained Rove and Libby had nothing to do with the leak, but reporters have since named them as sources.
It can be a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative.
Last Friday, after spending 85 days in jail, Miller testified before the grand jury about two conversations she had with Libby in July 2003 and turned over redacted notes.
She testified about a meeting with Libby on July 8, 2003 at the St. Regis Hotel and a later conversation by telephone on July 12, 2003, sources said.
But after she testified, Miller discovered that she had additional notes from the June 2003 conversation with Libby.
That was well before Wilson on July 6, 2003 published an opinion piece in The New York Times accusing the White House of twisting intelligence on Iraq, but after reports of his mission had begun to surface.
A column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times on May 6, 2003 may have been the trigger for the interest by Cheney's office, the sources said.
Kristof's column contained the first public mention of Wilson's mission in Niger, though Wilson was not identified by name. It also mentioned for the first time the alleged role of Cheney's office in seeking an investigation of the uranium deal, prompting the CIA to dispatch Wilson.
Top Cheney aides were eager to dispel Wilson's assertion that he was sent to Niger at the urging of the vice president, sources involved in the case said.