Speculation Escalates as Clock Ticks
The grand jury investigating possible wrongdoing by top White House figures in the CIA leak case met again Wednesday in a three-hour, closed-door session that was followed by an unusual private meeting between the special prosecutor in the case and a federal judge.
Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald made no announcements about whether he had decided to seek indictments. But speculation was rampant that charges were imminent or had already been filed. Sources close to the case said they doubted that Fitzgerald would seek to extend the grand jury’s term beyond Friday, raising the likelihood that a dramatic announcement would come any day.
Some lawyers close to the case speculated that Fitzgerald already may have secured at least one indictment, but was keeping it under seal until he was ready to announce the results of his 22-month investigation. After the grand jury adjourned for the day, Fitzgerald met for 45 minutes with U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, a court official said. The official declined to comment on what the men discussed.
A federal judge would have to approve the sealing of any indictment. The chief judge of the district, in this case Hogan, also probably would be given advance notice of any major planned public announcements affecting the court and its work -- such as arraignments of high-profile defendants.
A third possibility was that Fitzgerald was seeking permission to extend the term of the grand jury. But people close to the case said they considered that unlikely.
Among other factors, they noted, the term of the grand jury that Fitzgerald has been using was extended once already, and federal court rules do not provide for further extensions. At the same time, it was possible that Fitzgerald wanted to discuss using another grand jury to present his case, these lawyers said.
Fitzgerald has been probing whether Bush administration figures illegally revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of an effort to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had attacked the pre-Iraq war intelligence used by the administration in a newspaper opinion article.
Fitzgerald’s investigation has focused heavily on conversations that two senior administration officials -- presidential advisor Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney -- had with journalists before and after Wilson wrote his column. The prosecutor also is investigating whether officials misled investigators about those conversations, possibly laying the groundwork for perjury or obstruction of justice charges.
Robert Luskin, Rove’s lawyer, declined to comment Wednesday. And Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, did not return e-mail and phone messages.
The sealing of indictments is an action generally confined to cases where defendants are considered flight risks, or where the government is seeking to use them as leverage to gain the cooperation of defendants -- especially in violent crime and drug cases.
But lawyers close to the CIA leak case said that it would not be unusual for Fitzgerald to seal an indictment for a brief period to give notice to the people indicted, and to make arrangements for their surrender to authorities. It also would give the prosecutor the opportunity to simultaneously announce a series of indictments obtained at different times, they pointed out.
But even as the investigation approached its eleventh hour, Fitzgerald’s intentions remained closely held -- and it remained a possibility that he would close his investigation without seeking any charges.
The White House, while bracing for the possibility of indictments, said officials were conducting business as usual.
“Everybody’s focused on the priorities of the American people,” spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Wednesday. “We certainly are following developments in the news, but everybody’s got a lot of work to do.”
The grand jury deliberations Wednesday followed a flurry of recent witness interviews by Fitzgerald’s team, including the deployment of FBI agents Monday to the Washington neighborhood where Wilson and his wife live.
Neighbors said Tuesday that the agents wanted to determine whether they had known that Plame worked for the CIA before her identity was revealed two years ago in an article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Those interviewed said they were unaware of her CIA connection.
Fitzgerald would have to show that Plame’s covert status was not publicly known before he could bring charges under a federal law that makes it a felony to identify a CIA operative.
Fitzgerald’s lead FBI investigator was among those accompanying the prosecutor into the grand jury room at the federal courthouse Wednesday.
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