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Journalists subpoenaed in CIA leak case

From Scott Spoerry
CNN Washington Bureau

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Robert Novak
Tim Russert
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two journalists, including NBC's Tim Russert, have been subpoenaed by the Justice Department in the investigation into who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative, according to the journalists' media outlets.

Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," and Time Magazine columnist Mathew Cooper received subpoenas from investigators trying to learn who disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, wife of former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Wilson, a longtime career Foreign Service officer with expertise in African affairs, believes his wife's name was leaked by Bush administration officials in retaliation for his criticism of the administration.

He recounts what he thinks happened in his book "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir," published in April.

Wilson visited Niger in early 2002 on behalf of the CIA to investigate reports alleging Iraq had tried to buy significant quantities of "yellowcake" uranium ore there and in other African countries. He said he found the reports groundless.

Almost a year after Wilson delivered his findings to the CIA, President Bush cited the African uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as evidence Iraq was trying to restart its nuclear weapons program.

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said in the address. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog group, later said the British report was based in part on forged documents.

Last July, Wilson wrote an op-ed article for The New York Times suggesting officials allowed the information to be included in Bush's speech to bolster the case for war even though they knew it was suspect.

Wilson was interviewed on "Meet the Press" the same day the article appeared.

Shortly afterward, CIA Director George Tenet admitted the Iraq-Africa reference should not have been included in the speech and took responsibility for the error. (Full story)

Syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative in a July 14 article, saying the CIA sent Wilson to Niger at his wife's suggestion. Novak, who also is a CNN contributor, cited two senior administration officials as his sources.

It is a felony offense to reveal the name of a CIA operative, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Novak refused to say whether he has also received a subpoena; he is referring all questions on the matter to his attorney.

In a statement, NBC News President Neal Shapiro said the network would fight the subpoena, although Russert was not the recipient of a leak.

"The American public will be deprived of important information if the government can freely question journalists about their efforts to gather news," Shapiro said. "Sources will simply stop speaking to the press if they fear those conversations will become public."

Time Magazine general counsel Robin Bierstedt told CNN that the publication would also fight the subpoena, saying that Time's policy is to protect confidential sources. Time Magazine and CNN are related companies, both part of the Time-Warner Co.

Former federal prosecutors told CNN that investigators are required to exhaust other possible leads before resorting to questioning journalists, so that issuing subpoenas is a signal that the investigation is in its final stages.

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