More than two dozen e-mails related to CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, are missing, according to investigative reporter Jason Leopold. The messages were sent to several senior members of the George W. Bush administration between May 2003 and July 2003.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald suspects these messages may have been destroyed.
In the most recent development, Vice President Richard Cheney has been implicated in the case. A formerly secret legal opinion, disclosed in court proceedings against Lewis Scooter Libby, Cheneys former chief of staff, stated that Cheney told Libby about the identity of Valerie Plame more than a month before it was revealed by right-wing columnist Robert Novak.
Knowledgeable sources close to the investigation said the e-mails were sent by Libby, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, former CIA official Frederick Fleitz, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, John Hannah, former Cheney National Security assistant David Wurmser, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
Leopold reported Fitzgerald also believes some e-mails sent to Vice-President Cheney by Libby and some senior officials of the CIA, as well as the replies, were not turned over to his staff.
Sources told Leopold that the Special Prosecutor learned of the missing e-mails during grand jury testimony by key figures in the case. Some of them are cooperating with Fitzgerald to avoid being indicted for their own parts in the leak of Plames identity.
The e-mails involved held references to Valerie Plame Wilsons identity and CIA status, but did not disclose that she was a covert operative of the CIA. The sources said the messages had suggestions from various officials as to how the White House should respond to increasingly critical comments in the media by former Ambassador Wilson about the administrations pre-invasion intelligence on Iraq.
Current and former White House officials, who are cooperating in the probe, told the grand jury they communicated verbally and by e-mail with Libby, Rove and other senior officials about Wilsons comments to the press and how the White House should respond to media questions about the matter.
Fitzgeralds staff, after combing through thousands of documents obtained in the investigation to date, was unable to locate the messages described. The Special Prosecutor became suspicious about possible evidence destruction only a few weeks after he took charge of the investigation early in 2004. By that time, sources said, he already believed Rove and Libby were impeding his investigation.
Fitzgerald received a tip in the early stages of the investigation that Karl Rove might have withheld or destroyed an e-mail that would have implicated him in the Plame leak. Sources said in January 2004, Fitzgerald sent a letter to his boss, then acting Attorney General James Comey, asking for confirmation that he had the authority to investigate and prosecute individuals for additional crimes, such as obstruction of justice, perjury and destroying evidence. Up to that point, the probe had been closely focused on a little-known federal law making it a felony for any government official to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.
Comey confirmed Fitzgeralds authority in February 2004, saying he had the power to prosecute perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.
In a recent letter to Libbys attorneys, Fitzgerald said that during the investigation he was told some e-mails from the offices of Bush and Cheney were not saved.
In an abundance of caution, the letter said, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.
Rove is still under very close scrutiny for his role in the Plame case as Fitzgerald answers many questions about the case asked by the new grand jury he empaneled last November.
In the past several months, the Special Prosecutor has been questioning witnesses in the case about the origin of the Niger documents. Bush, in his State of the Union message in 2003, made reference to these documents to support his contention that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. The documents later proved false.
State Department officials have said the administration had strong motives for disclosing Valerie Plames identity as a covert CIA officer. They said questions they were asked about the Niger documents suggested to them that Fitzgerald was compiling a timeline.
Leopold said the officials believe Fitzgerald wants to show the grand jury how some members of the Bush administration may have conspired to retaliate against Wilson for his outspoken criticism of their warped intelligence reports.
These officials further said Fitzgeralds interest is not in the validity of the war, but he is trying to determine if Wilsons public comments about the intelligence may have triggered the leak by members of a nearly unknown committee called the White House Iraq Group, in the Pentagon, to reveal Plames name and CIA status to reporters.
The claim about the yellowcake uranium crept into the National Intelligence Estimate in 2002. I have no idea how or why [the Niger uranium claim] got in there, said a State Department source. To this day I dont know. Secretary [of State Colin] Powell knew that we disagreed with the intelligence. It wasnt that we disagreed with the White House per se, its that we disagreed with the intelligence regarding Niger. We were the only people in the intelligence community who thought the documents were bogus.
From the Feb. 8-14, 2006, issue