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Cheney Told Aide About CIA Agent Wilson Prior to Leak

By David Johnston, Richard W. Stevenson and Douglas Jehl


I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, first learned about the CIA officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Libby and Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Libby’s testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the CIA officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about 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.

Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed Cheney knew that Wilson worked at the CIA more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

Libby’s notes indicate that Cheney got his information about Valerie Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about her husband. But they contain no suggestion that either Cheney or Libby knew at the time of her undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status.

It would not be illegal for either Cheney or Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government’s deepest secrets, to discuss a CIA officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment, and Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, would not comment on Libby’s legal status.

Fitzgerald is expected to decide whether to bring charges in the case by Friday, when the grand jury term expires. Libby and Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser, both face the possibility of indictment, lawyers involved in the case have said. It is not known whether other officials also face indictment.

The notes help explain the legal difficulties facing Libby. Lawyers in the case said Libby testified to the grand jury that he had first heard from journalists that Valerie Wilson may have had a role in dispatching her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa in 2002 in search of evidence that Iraq had acquired nuclear material there for its weapons program.

But the notes, now in Fitzgerald’s possession, also indicate that Libby first heard about Wilson — who is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame — from Cheney. That apparent discrepancy in his testimony suggests why prosecutors are weighing false statement charges against him in what they interpret as an effort by Libby to protect Cheney from scrutiny, the lawyers said.