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Inside Politics

Official: Cheney quizzed as part of CIA leak probe

From John King
CNN Senior White House Correspondent

Dick Cheney
White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Robert Novak

(CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney has been interviewed by federal prosecutors investigating a leak that disclosed the identity of an undercover CIA operative, a Bush administration official told CNN.

The operative's husband had accused the Bush administration of making unfounded claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs in the run-up to war in Iraq.

The official, who spoke about the issue only on condition of anonymity, would not discuss details of the interview.

Word of Cheney's session with prosecutors was first reported in Saturday's edition of The New York Times.

The administration official who spoke to CNN did not dispute the article, but refused to comment in any detail except to say Cheney's session with prosecutors took place "in recent days."

Traveling with President Bush in Rome, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan referred questions to the vice president's office.

The newspaper said Cheney was questioned about whether he knew of any White House-sanctioned effort, or any effort by White House staffers, to reveal the name of the CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak or any other members of the news media.

The Times reported Cheney was not thought to be the focus of the investigation, but was questioned about conversations within the administration.

The CIA operative is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been asked by the U.S. government to explore claims that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government was attempting to purchase uranium in Africa.

After Bush made such a claim in his 2003 State of the Union address, Wilson disclosed that he had been asked to investigate the issue and had told the administration he could find no evidence of such an effort.

Wilson, a public supporter of Bush's Democratic opponent, has since accused the administration of misleading the American people and the international community in its effort to build support for the Iraq war.

After Wilson wrote a highly critical essay in The Washington Post, senior members of the White House communications and political operations discussed how the administration should respond, administration sources tell CNN.

But these sources have characterized the conversations as routine -- comparable to daily discussions about how to respond to administration critics in Congress or the political arena, and they have insisted there was no White House-sanctioned plan to leak the identity of Wilson's wife as retaliation for his criticism.

The White House has denied any sanctioned effort to reveal that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative, and also has said that Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby and top Bush political operative Karl Rove have individually told senior White House officials they had no role in the leak. Wilson has publicly speculated that Rove or Libby had a role in the leak.

The Justice Department is investigating whether federal law was violated in leaking the name of an undercover operative, and Bush has promised his administration's full cooperation with the probe.

To that end, Bush recently confirmed that he had consulted a private attorney, and was likely to retain private legal counsel in the event prosecutors asked the question him.

Cheney's office then said that the vice president had a long-standing relationship with a private Washington attorney, Terrence O'Donnell, and would seek O'Donnell's counsel if contacted by prosecutors.

Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems declined at the time -- Thursday afternoon -- to in any way discuss the investigation or Cheney's role in it, referring all questions to the Justice Department.

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