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A look at what is known and unknown in CIA leak investigation

WASHINGTON—White House political adviser Karl Rove emerged Friday from a fourth appearance before a federal grand jury with no word on whether he'd be charged in the leaking of an undercover CIA officer's name to the press.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said in a statement that the prosecutor who was leading the investigation hadn't advised Rove that he was a target of the probe, but the prosecutor is under no legal obligation to do so. Luskin also said the prosecutor said he hadn't decided whether to press any charges in the case.

With just two weeks before the grand jury's term expires, much about the investigation remains a mystery, including such pivotal questions as whether a crime was committed and, if so, by whom.

Here's a look at what is known and not known:

Q: How did this start?

A: Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson was dispatched to Africa in 2002 to check a report that Iraq had sought nuclear-weapons material from Niger. On July 6, 2003, he wrote a newspaper column accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq.

Q: What did the White House do?

A: Aides apparently told some reporters that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer whose maiden name was Valerie Plame, suggesting that he wasn't selected for the Africa assignment on his merits. Wilson and others took that "leak" of his wife's secret career role as an effort to impugn his credibility as a critic of the administration.

Q: What's the crime?

A: It's not certain that a crime was committed.

Q; What crimes may have been committed?

A: The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a crime to intentionally identify a covert officer when one is aware that the government was trying to conceal the officer's role.

Q: Who first reported it?

A: Newspaper columnist Robert Novak wrote in an article published July 14, 2003, that Wilson was married to Valerie Plame, whom he identified as a CIA "operative."

Q: Who told him that?

A: He wrote that his sources were "two senior administration officials." He told Newsday at the time, "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

He later told CNN, "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this."

Novak refuses to say whether he's identified his sources to the grand jury.

Q: Has Novak ever used Rove as a source before?

A: In 1992, the elder Bush's campaign fired Rove because it suspected he'd leaked a story to Novak criticizing a fellow Republican.

Q: Did the White House talk to anyone else about Plame and Wilson?

A: Karl Rove told Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper that Wilson's wife "apparently works" for the CIA.

Q: Anyone else?

A: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, spoke to New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the matter. Miller didn't write an article on the topic and hasn't revealed publicly what he told her.

She testified before the grand jury, but only after spending 85 days in jail for refusing to do so on the grounds that she'd given her word to her government source that she wouldn't identify him. Miller agreed to testify and was released from jail only after Libby personally released her from her pledge not to reveal that he was her source.

Several other Washington journalists have testified about similar contacts as well, including NBC's Tim Russert and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post.

Q: Is it clear that when Rove or Libby discussed Plame, they knew they were unmasking a secret CIA officer?

A: No. Plame's official status was still undercover, even though by then she was working full time at CIA headquarters outside Washington, according to two U.S. intelligence officials who declined to be identified because, technically, she remains undercover. Still, it's not clear that Rove, Libby or other White House aides knew her status when they discussed her with reporters.

Cooper wrote after testifying that Rove had told him Wilson's wife worked at the CIA on weapons of mass destruction but never mentioned anything one way or the other about her covert status.

Q: Could the reporters be charged?

A: The law in question prohibits revelations by those with "authorized access to classified information." That's government employees with security clearance, not members of the news media.

Q: Any other laws about leaking?

A: The Espionage Act prohibits revealing classified "information relating to the national defense." It's not known whether leaking Plame's identity might qualify as a breach of that law.

Q: Are these possible legal violations difficult to prove?

A: They are. The prosecutor also could be looking at whether Rove, Libby or others lied under oath before the grand jury. That would be easier to prove.

Q: Who's investigating?

A: Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago. As a federal prosecutor in New York, he helped convict four terrorists in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He also helped prosecute suspected terrorists in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney.

Q: Who picked him for this job?

A: The CIA asked for the investigation. The Justice Department named Fitzgerald as special counsel in December 2003 after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said he couldn't lead the inquiry himself, to avoid the appearance of a conflict on interest as a Bush appointee investigating the Bush White House.

Q: If Rove is indicted, will Bush fire him?

A: Bush has implied that he might wait for a conviction before acting.

"If the person has violated the law, the person will be taken care of," he said in September 2003. "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," he added last July.

But the political pressure for Rove to step aside, at least until his case was resolved, would be enormous, to limit damage to the president.

Q: Why does it matter?

A: If any senior White House official is indicted for a criminal offense, it calls into question the integrity of government and the standards of conduct at the White House.

The investigation by a Bush administration-appointed lawyer already is sapping the president's political strength to some degree in Washington. If Rove is indicted, he almost certainly will have to leave the White House, which would deprive Bush of the aide on whom he's relied most heavily throughout his political career.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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