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Poll: Few doubt wrongdoing in CIA leak

Neighbor, former official questioned with grand jury set to expire



Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Joe Wilson
Dick Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Only one in 10 Americans said they believe Bush administration officials did nothing illegal or unethical in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative's identity, according to a national poll released Tuesday.

Thirty-nine percent said some administration officials acted illegally in the matter, in which the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative, was revealed.

The same percentage of respondents in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said administration officials acted unethically, but did nothing illegal.

The poll was split nearly evenly on what respondents thought of Bush officials' ethical standards -- 51 percent saying they were excellent or good and 48 percent saying they were not good or poor.

The figures represent a marked shift from a 2002 survey in which nearly three-quarters said the standards were excellent or good and only 23 percent said they were fair or poor.

The latest poll questioned 1,008 adults October 21-23 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Federal law makes it a crime to deliberately reveal the identity of a covert CIA operative, and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is heading a probe into the matter. (Fitzgerald profile)

With the grand jury investigating the leak set to expire Friday, FBI agents interviewed a Washington neighbor of Plame for a second time.

The agents asked Marc Lefkowitz on Monday night whether he knew about Plame's CIA work before her identity was leaked in the media, and Lefkowitz told agents he did not, according to his wife, Elise Lefkowitz.

Lefkowitz said agents first questioned whether the couple was aware of Plame's CIA work in an interview several months ago.

Members of Fitzgerald's team also talked to a former White House official to gather last-minute information about the role of Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, a source familiar with the conversation told CNN.

Plame and her husband, retired State Department career diplomat Joseph Wilson, have accused Bush administration officials of deliberately leaking her identity to the media to retaliate against Wilson after he published an opinion piece in The New York Times.

The July 2003 article cast doubt on a key assertion in the Bush administration's arguments for war with Iraq -- that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium for a suspected nuclear weapons program in Africa.

Wilson, who was acting ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said the CIA sent him to Niger, in central Africa, to investigate the uranium claim in February 2002 and that he found no evidence such a transaction occurred and it was unlikely it could have. (Full story)

Days after Wilson's article was published, Plame's identity was exposed in a piece by syndicated columnist and longtime CNN contributor Robert Novak.

Rove has testified before the Fitzgerald grand jury that he believes it was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who first told him that Plame worked for the CIA and had a role in sending her husband to Africa, according to a source familiar with Rove's testimony.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for contempt before finally agreeing last month to tell grand jurors that Libby told her Wilson's wife may have worked at the CIA, although she said Libby did not identify Plame by name or describe her as a covert agent or operative.

Libby has also testified before the grand jury.

Report links Cheney to case

The New York Times reported Tuesday that notes in Fitzgerald's possession suggest that Libby first heard of the CIA officer from Cheney himself. (Full story)

But the newspaper reported that the notes do not indicate that Cheney or Libby knew Plame was an undercover operative.

The Times said its sources in the story were lawyers involved in the case.

The notes show that George Tenet, then the CIA director, gave the information to Cheney in response to questions the vice president posed about Wilson, the Times reported.

Cheney said in September 2003 he had seen no report from Wilson after his assignment in Africa.

"I don't know Joe Wilson. I've never met Joe Wilson. I don't know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back," he told NBC.

Cheney's office had no comment, and the White House would neither confirm or deny the Times report.

"The policy of this White House has been to carry out the direction of the president, which is to cooperate fully with the special prosecutor," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who was peppered with questions about the report at his daily briefing.

"There's a lot of speculation that is going on right now. There are many facts that are not known. The work of the special prosecutor continues and we look forward to him successfully concluding his investigation," he said.

McClellan said he had not sought any clarification about Cheney's involvement from the vice president or his office and bristled when a reporter asked if Cheney always tells the truth to the American people, dismissing the query as "ridiculous."

In 2003, McClellan used the same word to deny that either Rove or Libby had been involved in the leak.

The Justice Department opened a criminal probe in September 2003 at the request of the CIA.

Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, Illinois, was named special prosecutor at the end of 2003 after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the probe.

As the grand jury term expires, Fitzgerald could ask for an extension of the grand jury's service, request indictments or end the probe without bringing charges.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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