Cheney Notes Surface in Fitzgerald Probe

The role of Vice President Dick Cheney in the criminal case stemming from the outing of White House critic Joseph Wilson's CIA wife is likely to get fresh attention as a result of newly disclosed notes showing that Cheney personally asked whether Wilson had been sent by his wife on a "junket" to Africa.

Cheney's notes, written on the margins of a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed column by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, were included as part of a filing Friday night by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the perjury and obstruction case against ex-Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

The notes, Fitzgerald said in his filing, show that Cheney and Libby were "acutely focused" on the Wilson column and on rebutting his criticisms of the White House's handling of pre-Iraq war intelligence. In the column, which created a firestorm after its publication, Wilson wrote that he had been dispatched by the CIA without pay to Niger in February 2002 to investigate an intelligence report that Iraq was seeking uranium from the African country for a nuclear bomb. Wilson said he was told Cheney had asked about the intelligence, but the White House subsequently ignored his findings debunking the Niger claims.

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Read the Fitzgerald Filing on Cheney Notes

In the margins of the op-ed, Cheney jotted out a series of questions that seemed to challenge many of Wilson's assertions as well as the legitimacy of his CIA-sponsored trip to Africa: "Have they done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [sic] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?"

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for Cheney's own notes to be made public. The notes—apparently obtained as a result of a grand jury subpoena—would appear to make Cheney an even more central witness than had been previously thought in the criminal probe. Fitzgerald's prosecution has created continued problems for the White House. Karl Rove, the President Bush's chief political adviser, recently made his fifth grand jury appearance in the case and remains under scrutiny while Fitzgerald weighs whether to file criminal charges against him. For now, Libby is the only figure charged in the case.

Lea Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, declined to comment on the newly disclosed notes. "We continue to cooperate in the investigation as we have since its inception," she said.

Fitzgerald first alleged that Cheney had questioned whether Wilson's trip was a "junket" in a court filing last month. In that filing, Fitzgerald also asserted that the vice president, acting with the approval of President Bush, had authorized Libby to disclose portions of the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to rebut some of Wilson's claims.

But the notes provide significant new context to that assertion. They show the vice president personally raised questions about Wilson's trip right after the publication of the Wilson column—and five days before Libby confirmed to Time reporter Matt Cooper that he had "heard" that Wilson's wife, former CIA agent Valerie Plame, had played a role in sending him to Africa.

Libby, questioned by the FBI and by federal prosecutors in two grand jury appearances, denied providing that confirmation to Cooper and insisted he had heard about Wilson's wife a day or two earlier from NBC News "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert—an account that Fitzgerald charged in an indictment last October was a lie. Fitzgerald in his court filing indicated he plans to introduce a copy of Cheney's annotated version of the Wilson column to show the vice president's interest in the circumstances surrounding Wilson's trip was an important matter to Libby that week and explains many of his actions. Those actions, according to the indictment, include discussing Plame's employment at the CIA—a matter Fitzgerald has said was classified at the time—with New York Times reporter Judy Miller on July 8, 2003.

Fitzgerald also said in his court filing that he plans to introduce a copy of Robert Novak's July 14, 2003, newspaper column that first identified Plame as a CIA "operative" who worked issues related to weapons of mass destruction. Fitzgerald said he will do so in order to introduce evidence about a series of conversations that he argued could undercut one of Libby's principal defenses: that he had no reason to believe Plame's employment was a sensitive matter and therefore had no reason to lie to the grand jury about when and with whom he spoke about it.

According to Fitzgerald's filing, on the day that the Novak column was published, a CIA official was asked in Libby's presence by another Cheney aide whether he had read the column. The CIA official had not. But shortly thereafter, the unidentified CIA official discussed in Libby's presence "the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees as had occurred in the Novak column," Fitzgerald wrote.

This evidence, Fitzgerald added, "directly contradicts" the assertion by defense lawyers that Libby "had no motive to lie" to the FBI and to the grand jury because he "thought that neither he nor anyone else had done anything wrong." Instead, Fitzgerald asserts, "the evidence about the conversation concerning the Novak column provides a strong motive for the defendant to provide false information and testimony about his disclosures to reporters."

A spokeswoman for Libby declined comment on the filing.