In today’s New York Times, reporter Judith Miller offers a lengthy and seemingly comprehensive summary of her testimony before Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury. Miller’s account is interesting, but it falls short of explaining what all the fuss was about.
In general, Miller’s story seems to exonerate “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, with whom Miller had a series of conversations about Joe Wilson. In the course of those conversations, Valerie Plame’s name was mentioned a couple of times, but there is no suggestion that either Libby or Miller had any idea that she was a “covert” CIA employee, rather than an analyst. (In fact, as far as I know, she wasn’t.) Reading Miller’s account, the impression that this investigation is much ado about nothing is only strengthened.
We, and many others, have speculated about why Miller finally testified after serving nearly three months in jail. Miller doesn’t add much that is new to that part of the story; she alleges again that Libby was the source that she thought she was protecting by going to jail–a claim that I find incredible.
We and others have offered two theories as to what changed, so that Miller finally felt free to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. The first theory is that she had multiple sources for her knowledge of Plame’s identity, and was protecting one of those other sources. Initially, Fitzgerald had refused to agree to question her only about Libby. The second theory is that Miller was worried about being questioned about matters completely extraneous to the Plame investigation. The leading candidate for such a matter was a controversial episode in which Miller called an Islamic charity that was about to be raided as a terrorist front, and tipped them off to the impending raid. That incident was also under investigation, also by Fitzgerald.
Miller’s account appears to support the second theory. She says:
Equally central to my decision was Mr. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor. He had declined to confine his questioning to the subject of Mr. Libby. This meant I would have been unable to protect other confidential sources who had provided information – unrelated to Mr. Wilson or his wife – for articles published in The Times. Last month, Mr. Fitzgerald agreed to limit his questioning.
Without both agreements, I would not have testified and would still be in jail.
Later in the article, Miller writes:
Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I could recall discussing the Wilson-Plame connection with other sources. I said I had, though I could not recall any by name or when those conversations occurred.
It is hard to square this with the interview given by her former lawyer Floyd Abrams, in which Abrams said that Fitzgerald’s agreement to limit his Plame questioning to Libby, and forgo asking about other sources of the same information, was critical to Miller’s decision to testify.
Miller’s story ends by describing an exchange she had with Fitzgerald, which will be construed to suggest that the letter Libby recently wrote to Miller might be considered obstruction of justice, on the ground that he tried to influence her testimony. The exchange is, frankly, weird:
Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. “The public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me,” Mr. Libby wrote.
The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame’s identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.
Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter’s closing lines. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,” Mr. Libby wrote. “They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”
How did I interpret that? Mr. Fitzgerald asked.
In answer, I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was.
“Judy,” he said. “It’s Scooter Libby.”
Which strikes me as a low-comedy conclusion to a low-comedy investigation.