WASHINGTON — New details about Judith Miller's decision to cooperate in the CIA leak probe are raising questions about whether Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and his defense lawyer tried to steer the New York Times reporter's testimony.
The dispute arose as the newspaper yesterday detailed three conversations that Miller had with the Cheney aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in the summer of 2003 about Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson and Wilson's wife, covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.
The issue over the contacts between Miller, Libby and their representatives has arisen even though Libby's lawyer insists his client granted an unconditional waiver of confidentiality more than a year ago for the reporter to testify.
In urging her to cooperate with prosecutors, Libby wrote Miller while she was still in jail in September: "I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all. ... The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."
One of Miller's lawyers, Robert Bennett, said yesterday on ABC's "This Week" that Libby's letter was "a very stupid thing to do."
When asked whether he thought Libby's letter was an attempt to steer her prospective testimony, Bennett said, "I wouldn't say the answer to that is yes, but it was very troubling."
In a first-person account in the Times yesterday, Miller said that in her recent grand jury testimony, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked her "whether I thought Mr. Libby had tried to shape my testimony."
Miller said she told the special counsel that Libby's letter could be perceived as an effort by Libby "to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity." But she added that her notes of the conversations "suggested that we had discussed her job" at the CIA and not her name.
Miller wrote the name "Valerie Flame" in the same notebook she used when taking notes of her Libby interviews in 2003, but the reporter said she did not think she had gotten the name from Libby. She said she could not recall from whom she got the name.
"I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from, when I wrote it or why the name was misspelled," Miller said in yesterday's first-person account.
Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to disclose her source for Plame's identity but has since made two recent grand jury appearances about her discussions with Libby concerning Bush administration critic Wilson, Plame's husband.
Plame's name was exposed eight days after Wilson said the administration had manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs.
"I testified that I did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby, in part because the notation does not appear in the same part of my notebook as the interview notes from him," Miller wrote in the Times. "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."
Miller also wrote down Plame's name in her notes as "Victoria Wilson."
"I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own," Miller recalled. "Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.
"I also told the grand jury I thought it was odd that I had written `Wilson' because my memory is that I had heard her referred to only as Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether this suggested that Mr. Libby had given me the name Wilson. I told him I didn't know and didn't want to guess."
The newspaper reported in a story on its Web site yesterday that over a year ago Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, passed along to Miller lawyer Floyd Abrams information about Libby's grand jury testimony — that the White House aide had not told Miller the name or undercover status of Plame.
Miller told the newspaper that Abrams gave her the following description of a conversation Abrams had with Tate: "He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn't give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, 'Don't go there,' or, 'We don't want you there.'"
In an e-mail message to the Times on Oct. 14, Tate called Miller's interpretation "outrageous." "I never once suggested that she should not testify," Tate wrote. "It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary."
Tate added, "'Don't go there' or 'We don't want you there' is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested."
The criminal investigation into the leaking of Plame's identity is nearing an end, and two Democratic senators said yesterday any Bush administration aide indicted in the probe ought to step aside.
Bush should return to the standard he first set when he said that anyone involved in the leak would be fired rather than stick to a later statement that anyone convicted of a crime would be ousted, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Presidential aide Karl Rove and Libby "have been implicated directly in an effort to discredit Joe Wilson," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. Durbin told "Fox News Sunday" if Rove or Libby were indicted, "the tradition is they should be removed."
Rove gave grand jury testimony on Oct. 14 — his fourth appearance. He was warned ahead of time by Fitzgerald that there was no guarantee he would escape indictment.
President Bush today declined to say whether he would remove an aide under indictment.
"There's a serious investigation," the president said. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation." He commented in response to reporters' questions during a meeting with Bulgaria's president, Georgi Parvanov.
Rove did not initially tell investigators that he had a conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Wilson and his wife's status as a CIA officer.
"There's no question that, when you don't reveal something that appears to be material to an investigator initially, it raises questions in a prosecutor's mind and perhaps a grand juror's mind," said Joseph diGenova, a U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration.
"But it's also true, for those of us who have had witnesses as government attorneys and as defense attorneys, that people do forget things," he told ABC.
As for Miller's lack of recollection as to who told her Plame's name, it is hardly unusual.
The Iran-Contra controversy featured a White House military aide, Oliver North, who testified that he was unable to recall key events about the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran and the covert arming of guerrilla forces fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to recall much of anything about work that she and her law firm had done on long-ago Whitewater land deals in Arkansas. The deals turned out to be fraudulent and sent some of her business partners to prison.
Miller is in a different position than her predecessors in Washington controversy. She is a witness in the investigation, not under scrutiny herself.