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Toobin: Woodward admission doesn't help White House

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CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin

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Jeffrey Toobin

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The CIA leak probe is again making headlines, with the prosecutor planning to seek a new grand jury and journalist Bob Woodward's admission that a senior Bush administration official talked about CIA agent Valerie Plame weeks before her identity became public.

The developments come several weeks after I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff after being indicted on five charges, including obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements. CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin talked with anchor Soledad O'Brien about the case.

TOOBIN: Part of the theory of the prosecution of Lewis Libby is that Libby, and perhaps others in the Bush administration, were kind of conspiring to get Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, because Wilson had turned against the Bush administration on the weapons of mass destruction issue. The Woodward story throws a little bit of a chink ... in the case.

He says, look, there was no big conspiracy [involving] Wilson [and] Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. This was someone else just sort of mentioning in an offhand way. They weren't trying to get Valerie Plame, they were just sort of passing office gossip.

Now it's not clear how much that would actually help Lewis Libby in courtroom. But in terms of understanding the story, it does make it a little murkier.

O'BRIEN: Does it help the White House?

TOOBIN: No, I don't think it helps the White House at all because it keeps the story alive. Almost immediately after Woodward made this disclosure, Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, went and said, I need a new grand jury. I'm going to be doing more investigating. I'm going to be subpoenaing more people, bringing in more testimony, possibly bringing more charges.

The best thing that could happen to the White House with this story, is the whole thing just goes away and people forget about it. That's not going to happen.

O'BRIEN: Why is Scooter Libby not off the hook?

TOOBIN: Because Scooter Libby is charged with lying to the grand jury about his conversations with reporters. When Bob Woodward heard about this is not directly, and maybe not even indirectly, relevant to the question of: Did Scooter Libby lie to the grand jury?

So I don't think it helps him that much, although it may help on certain issues of motive and whether he really did forget. Because he may say, look, everybody was just sort of chatting about this, how can I remember? But it's not a direct help, I don't think.

O'BRIEN: What about the new source? Bob Woodward says that the new source notified Pat Fitzgerald after Bob Woodward told the source that he remembered this conversation. ... What does this mean for "the source"?

TOOBIN: It depends. Has the source spoken previously to the prosecutor? Did this subsequent conversation contradict what he or she said earlier? I don't know.

This is where we're really into speculation without knowing who "the source" is and whether "the source" had any prior dealings with the prosecutor. It could be nothing at all. It could have no impact on "the source's" status or it could be a big problem.

O'BRIEN: With a new grand jury, clearly, it's not going away?

TOOBIN: No. And, you know, they will have to ask related people about this conversation. You can't just ask one person and close things down. You've got to sort of tie it all up. That will take some time.

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