Ashcroft Took His Sweet Time

From Holden:

Murray Waas’ latest:

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft continued to oversee the Valerie Plame-CIA leak probe for more than two months in late 2003 after he learned in extensive briefings that FBI agents suspected White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby of trying to mislead the FBI to conceal their roles in the leak, according to government records and interviews. Despite these briefings, which took place between October and December 2003, and despite the fact that senior White House aides might become central to the leak case, Ashcroft did not recuse himself from the matter until December 30, when he allowed the appointment of a special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, to take over the investigation.

According to people with firsthand knowledge of the briefings, senior Justice Department officials told Ashcroft that the FBI had uncovered evidence that Libby, then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had misled the bureau about his role in the leaking of Plame’s identity to the press.

By November, investigators had obtained personal notes of Libby’s that indicated he had first learned from Cheney that Plame was a CIA officer. But Libby was insisting in FBI interviews that he had learned Plame’s name and identity from journalists. Libby was also telling investigators that when he told reporters that Plame worked for the CIA, he was only passing along an unsubstantiated rumor.

Officials also told Ashcroft that investigators did not believe Libby’s account, according to sources knowledgeable about the briefings, and that Libby might have lied to the FBI to defend other — more senior — administration officials.

Ashcroft was told no later than November 2003 that investigators also doubted the accounts that Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political adviser, had given the FBI as to how he, too, learned that Plame was a CIA officer and how he came to disclose that information to columnist Robert Novak.

Learn how deeply Rove has screwed himself by clicking Read More …

From Holden:

In a briefing devoted specifically to Rove and Novak, sources said, officials told Ashcroft that investigators believed it was possible that the presidential aide and the columnist had devised a cover story to present to the FBI to make it appear that Rove had not been a source for Novak’s column.

Ashcroft’s decision to continue overseeing the leak investigation through December of 2003 was a sore point among some federal investigators: Rove and Libby were top aides to the president and vice president at the time, and Rove also had been a political consultant to Ashcroft in his senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns.

[snip]

Current and former Justice officials not directly involved in the case said in interviews for this article, almost without exception, that once senior aides to both the president and vice president came under suspicion, Ashcroft should have recused himself entirely from the case.

[snip]

Around the same date that Libby was interviewed, the FBI also questioned Rove for the first time. During that interview, and later in his initial appearance before the grand jury, Rove did not disclose that he had spoken about Plame to Time magazine’s Cooper. Ashcroft wasn’t briefed about the omission because at that time investigators apparently didn’t know that Rove and Cooper had talked on July 9, 2003, just before Novak’s column appeared.

Rove’s failure in the early stages of the CIA leak probe to provide information on his conversation with Cooper about Plame is one of the reasons Rove is still under investigation by Fitzgerald.

Although FBI investigators did not know of the Rove-Cooper phone call, they were skeptical about Rove’s account of his July conversation with Novak. Both Rove and Novak have since said that Rove was one of “two senior administration officials” cited as sources in Novak’s column.

According to the accounts of their conversation that both Rove and Novak later gave to investigators, the subject of Wilson’s trip to Niger and any role played by Plame came up at the very end of a conversation on an entirely different matter.

Rove told the FBI that when Novak mentioned Plame’s CIA connection and that she might have played a role in selecting her husband to go to Niger, he (Rove) simply said that he had heard much the same information. According to sources, Novak later told investigators a virtually identical story.

Ashcroft was advised during the fall 2003 briefings that investigators had strong doubts about Novak’s and Rove’s accounts of their July 9 conversation. The investigators were skeptical that Novak would have relied merely on an offhand comment from Rove as the basis for writing his column about Plame.

Questioned further, Rove told investigators that he originally heard the information about Plame from a person whose name he could not remember. That person, he said, might have been a journalist, although he was not certain. Rove has also said that he could not recall whether the conversation about Plame took place in person or over the telephone.

Rove’s version was strikingly similar to the one from Libby, who had also been a source for reporters about Plame. Libby’s version to the FBI was that in telling reporters that Plame worked for the CIA and may have played a role in sending Wilson to Niger, he was merely passing on unsubstantiated rumors that he had heard from other reporters. But the indictment of Libby alleges that he lied about this, and instead was told about Plame by Cheney, an undersecretary of State, and at least two other government officials.