Prosecutor in Plame Case May Seek Conspiracy Charges

By: E&P Staff

Many observers of the unfolding Plame/CIA case lament the revelations in the federal grand jury probe but suggest it may all be in vain because the level of malfeasance may not produce a specific criminal charge. But that doesn’t mean serious charges–including far-ranging ones, connecting the offices of Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney–could not be brought, via the “conspiracy” route.

Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald may announce his intentions as early as this week, now that Judith Miller has testified.

Speculation is rampant in Washington this weekend, with ABC’s George Stephanopolous adding fuel to the fire Sunday morning, disclosing on the “This Week” program that “a source close to this told me this week that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions” involving Valerie Plame.

In the Sunday article in The Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus (who has himself testified in this case), sketch out what Fitzgerald may, in fact, be up to:

“Many lawyers in the case have been skeptical that Fitzgerald has the evidence to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is the complicated crime he first set out to investigate, and which requires showing that government officials knew an operative had covert status and intentionally leaked the operative’s identity.

“But a new theory about Fitzgerald’s aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case.

“They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.

“Lawyers involved in the case interviewed for this report agreed to talk only if their names were not used, citing Fitzgerald’s request for secrecy.

“One source briefed on Miller’s account of conversations with [I. Lewis] Libby said it is doubtful her testimony would on its own lead to charges against any government officials. But, the source said, her account could establish a piece of a web of actions taken by officials that had an underlying criminal purpose.

“Conspiracy cases are viewed by criminal prosecutors as simpler to bring than more straightforward criminal charges, but also trickier to sell to juries. ‘That would arguably be a close call for a prosecutor, but it could be tried,’ a veteran Washington criminal attorney with longtime experience in national security cases said yesterday.”

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