LEAK PROBE: IN THE 'MOP-UP' PHASE

With last week's disclosures that President Bush had consulted with a criminal-defense lawyer and Vice President Dick Cheney had been questioned by federal prosecutors, the Justice probe into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity is reaching a critical stage. Decisions on indictments could come within weeks, according to lawyers and others close to the case. Bush's decision to seek out the counsel of lawyer James Sharp was prompted by signals that prosecutors may want to talk to him shortly--a clear sign the investigation is reaching its climax, says one lawyer. Another source says prosecutors have been returning to key witnesses to ask what were described as "mop-up" questions. There are no suggestions that either the president or veep are in any legal trouble. But one key figure in the probe, sources say, is Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who took "prodigious" notes of White House conversations in which CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame, wife of former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, may have been mentioned. The notes have served as a basis for questioning Libby and other White House aides. The White House has denied Libby leaked any "classified" information to columnist Robert Novak, who first revealed Plame's identity. One high-placed official says that if special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald ultimately chooses not to bring indictments, Justice officials may arrange to disclose his findings in response to an inquiry from Capitol Hill.