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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Cheney Questioned Over Leak, White House Aide Confirms

A grand jury is looking into who disclosed the name of an undercover CIA operative.

June 06, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — A senior White House aide confirmed Saturday that investigators recently questioned Vice President Dick Cheney in connection with a federal grand jury probe into who in the Bush administration leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative last year.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Cheney had been questioned, although not under oath. Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems said Saturday he could not confirm the report. "Given the fact that there is an ongoing investigation, it is appropriate to refer requests for comment to the Office of the Special Counsel," Kellems said in a telephone interview.

But in Paris, where President Bush is attending D-day commemoration ceremonies, a senior White House aide who asked not to be named said that Cheney had been questioned. The aide did not provide any details about what Cheney was asked or what he told investigators.

Cheney stopped in Chicago on Friday, where U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald is running the investigation. But aides said he was not interviewed by investigators during that visit.

Fitzgerald was asked in late December to conduct the investigation after Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft disqualified himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in what has become a politically charged case. It can be a federal crime to disclose the name of a covert intelligence operative.

Since December, a federal grand jury has questioned an array of White House officials about who revealed the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative and wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, to syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other reporters.

Wilson has alleged that the leak was part of an effort by the Bush administration to smear him after Wilson publicly criticized Bush's assertion in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq tried to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. After Wilson said the claim was untrue, the White House acknowledged that it was unsubstantiated and should never have been included in the president's speech.

The CIA had sent Wilson, who had served in diplomatic postings in Africa, to Niger to investigate intelligence reports that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium to make nuclear bombs. Upon his return, Wilson told the agency that the reports were apparently false.

Months later, when Novak revealed Plame's name in his column, he said he was told by two administration officials that she had suggested to CIA colleagues that they send her husband on the mission. Wilson has said his wife was not involved in the decision to send him.

Bush recently acknowledged to reporters that he had met with a criminal lawyer, Jim Sharp, in anticipation that investigators might want to question him in connection with the Plame leak investigation.

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