BY JAMES GORDON MEEK, THOMAS M. DeFRANK and KENNETH R. BAZINET
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
October 18, 2005
WASHINGTON – A special prosecutor’s intensifying focus into who outed a CIA spy has raised questions whether Vice President Cheney himself is involved, knowledgeable sources confirmed yesterday.
At least one source and one reporter who have testified in the probe said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is pursuing Cheney’s role in the Valerie Plame affair.
In addition, at least six current and former Cheney staffers – most members of the White House Iraq Group – have testified before the grand jury, including the vice president’s top honcho, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, and two top Cheney national security lieutenants.
Cheney’s name has come up amid indications Fitzgerald may be edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge – with help from a secret snitch.
“They have got a senior cooperating witness – someone who is giving them all of that,” a source who has been questioned in the leak probe told the Daily News yesterday.
Cheney was questioned last year byprosecutors and has hired a private attorney, former colleague Terrence O’Donnell, who declined to comment when contacted by The News.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride only offered the standard canned response that her boss is cooperating.
Libby and President Bush’s political mastermind Karl Rove remain the focus of the probe into whether Plame’s cover was blown in a scheme to embarrass her husband, ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who debunked claims that Iraq tried to buy nuclear materials in Niger.
Libby is often described as “Cheney’s Cheney,” a loyal and discreet lieutenant who shares his boss’s hard-line philosophy and bareknuckle attitude toward political enemies of the Bush administration.
Cheney and Libby spend hours together in the course of a day, which causes sources who know both men very well to assert that any attempts to discredit Wilson would almost certainly have been known to the vice president.
“Scooter wouldn’t be freelancing on this without Cheney’s knowledge,” a source told the Daily News. “It was probably some off-the-cuff thing: ‘This guy [Wilson] could be a problem.'”
The News reported in July that Libby was “totally obsessed with Wilson.”
Whether that obsession amounts to criminal misconduct will be decided by Fitzgerald – but if Libby is indicted or implicated in wrongdoing, Cheney’s reputation will suffer as well.