The White House is bracing for what some Bush administration officials now see as an almost foregone conclusion of the CIA leak grand jury investigation: indictments.
Although no one within the administration knows exactly what special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald will do, the federal prosecutor has taken steps in recent days that portend bad news for the White House. He has started up a Web site (www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln/osc), and sources say the prosecutor plans no final report, which lawyers close to the probe say means indictments are likely.
The grand jury that Mr. Fitzgerald oversees is scheduled to wrap up its work by Friday, but one legal source said yesterday he could convene the grand jury as early as today for a special session to ask for the approval of indictments.
Republicans circled the wagons over the weekend, suggesting that the investigation would be a failure if it ended without serious charges against top targets, most prominent among them senior Bush adviser Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.
“I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment … it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn’t indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
One newspaper reported that the senator’s remarks amounted to “talking points” set out by the White House in preparation for indictments.
Mr. Bush was asked yesterday after a Cabinet meeting whether he agreed with Republican suggestions that perjury charges would be little more than technicalities.
“This is a very serious investigation,” said Mr. Bush, with Mr. Rove sitting behind him and Mr. Libby seated directly across from the president. But Mr. Bush again refused to discuss the particulars of the case, saying: “I’ve been asked about this, which I appreciate. You’re doing your job. I’m not going to comment about it.”
The special counsel initially was charged nearly two years ago with investigating “the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a Central Intelligence Agency employee’s identity,” but sources close to the case say the probe has shifted to focus on charges of crimes such as perjury and obstruction of justice.
In February 2004, at Mr. Fitzgerald’s request, the Justice Department granted him the authority to investigate and prosecute “federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with [the] investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.”
Both Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have admitted they spoke with reporters about Valerie Plame, the CIA employee who suggested to her superiors that her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, be sent on a 2002 mission to Niger to investigate reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was attempting to acquire uranium ore from the African nation.