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Gonzales: CIA leak probe moving forward

Democrats ask attorney general why no charges have been filed


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Friday he believes the investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative nearly two years ago is moving forward appropriately.

Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee wrote Gonzales on Thursday asking him to "provide an explanation as to why no charges have been brought" against government officials who leaked the name of Valerie Plame.

It is illegal to reveal the names of covert operatives.

In response to the Democrats, Gonzales said he is confident that Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney from Chicago who is the lead prosecutor on the case, is "proceeding on a basis that he thinks is appropriate and that at the appropriate time the matter will come to a head."

Gonzales noted that he recused himself from the matter after taking office. His predecessor, John Ashcroft, also recused himself in December 2003 after complaints from Democrats. Ashcroft's office said he took that step to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

The Democrats' letter noted that Fitzgerald wrote in March court filings that the factual investigation "was for all practical purposes" completed in October, yet no charges were filed.

"Nearly two years have elapsed, and nobody has been held accountable for this serious violation of law," the Democrats said in a letter to the attorney general, adding that they were "writing to express our grave concern."

Plame's identity was revealed in a July 2003 newspaper column by Robert Novak, co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," who cited two senior Bush administration officials.

In a 2003 op-ed piece in The New York Times, Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, sharply criticized President Bush's claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium in Niger.

The CIA had sent Wilson, a former ambassador, to Niger in 2002 to investigate, and he had reported back that Baghdad hadn't purchased uranium yellowcake, which can be used to develop enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

Wilson accused the White House of using discredited intelligence to justify the invasion in Iraq. He said the leak about his wife was in retaliation for his criticism.

After Plame's name was made public, Bush publicly urged his administration to cooperate with investigators, and prosecutors vowed to investigate the matter fully.

In last month's court filings, Fitzgerald said he was awaiting the possible testimony of two reporters -- Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times, who have refused to give up their sources. The two reporters didn't reveal Plame's name.

"Their testimony should not preclude criminal charges against the officials who illegally disclosed the information to Mr. Novak," the Democrats' letter to Gonzales said.

The letter added, "Given that Mr. Fitzgerald has publicly acknowledged that the factual investigation of the Novak disclosure is complete, we request that you brief the committee on the matter and provide an explanation as to why no charges have been brought."

It was unclear Friday whether the attorney general's office will brief the committee.

A grand jury has heard testimony for more than a year.

Cooper and Miller refused to respond to subpoenas seeking the identities of their sources in gathering information on the leak. They could face up to 18 months in prison.

In the past, Novak has declined to comment on the matter.


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