Fevered speculation over CIA agent probe

Last updated at 09:25 28 October 2005

The waiting game will finally be over in Washington today when a two-year probe into the outing of a CIA agent draws to a close.

Speculation has reached fever pitch about indictments that could resonate deep inside the White House.

Karl Rove, President George Bush's chief political aide - and dubbed 'Bush's brain' - and Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's right hand man, both face criminal charges.

The scandal began in July 2003 when syndicated columnist Robert Novak revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, essentially ending her career.

Plame was an expert on weapons of mass destruction whose husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, cast doubt over President Bush's Iraq policy in an opinion piece printed in the New York Times just a few days earlier.

The couple believe Plame's cover was deliberately blown by the Bush administration in order to punish Wilson.

It is a federal crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover agent. Government officials who do so face up to ten years in jail.

Potential indictments hang on whether special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald believes anyone deliberately misled the grand jury investigating the leak.

Both Rove and Libby, among others, face perjury or obstruction of justice charges.

If either is indicted they are widely expected to

step down.

The probe focused on their conversations with reporters about Plame in June and July 2003.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify about her discussions on the subject with Libby.

Rove became embroiled in the scandal after discussing the matter with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.

He appeared before the grand jury four times, but initially failed to testify that he had spoken on the subject with Cooper, despite later correcting himself.

Mr Cheney himself has also come under scrutiny.

Notes of a conversation between him and Libby indicate that it was he who first told his aide about Plame, according to the New York Times.

Cheney reportedly got the information from then-CIA director George Tenet.

However, the notes did not indicate that Cheney or Libby knew Plame was undercover and that her identity was protected by federal law.

Fitzgerald is believed to have summarised his case before the grand jury on Wednesday. He later met with the US District Court's chief justice, sparking rumours of potential plea bargaining.

The grand jury's term expires today. There is a slim chance it could be expanded, meaning Fitzgerald is broadening the probe or considering more charges.

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