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Sunday, October 16, 2005

The New York Times vs. Judith Miller vs. Patrick Fitzgerald

Posted by on October 16 at 12:25 PM

The New York Times today publishes two hotly awaited articles about the newspaper’s role in the CIA leak case. They are absolute must reads for anyone following the larger leak investigation story which could result in indictments of high Bush administration officials as early as this week.

The first article is an investigation by three of the paper’s most respected reporters into Judith Miller’s mysterious actions over the last two years while a special prosecutor tried to figure out who leaked her the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Here’s the quote everyone will be talking about until the indictments come:

Ms. Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to testify and reveal her confidential source, then relented. On Sept. 30, she told the grand jury that her source was I. Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. But she said he did not reveal Ms. Plame’s name.

And when the prosecutor in the case asked her to explain how “Valerie Flame” appeared in the same notebook she used in interviewing Mr. Libby, Ms. Miller said she “didn’t think” she heard it from him. “I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall,” she wrote on Friday, recounting her testimony for an article that appears today.

This, as many people are noting today, strains credulity. As Arianna Huffington, one of the most dogged Miller critics, put it:

When the Plame case broke open in July 2003, these notes were presumably no more than a few weeks old. But who had revealed Plame’s name was not seared on Miller’s mind?

This is as believable as Woodward and Bernstein not recalling who Deep Throat was.

The second New York Times article is Miller’s first-person account of what she told the special prosecutor, why she went to jail, why she then agreed to leave jail and testify, and what she made of her often cryptic communications with Libby over the last two years. There are many fascinating things about her account, and how it directly contradicts portions of today’s other Times story, but in terms of potential indictments, this is the most interesting:

When I was last before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald posed a series of questions about a letter I received in jail last month from Mr. Libby. The letter, two pages long, encouraged me to testify. “Your reporting, and you, are missed,” it begins.

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.

This, alone, seems like it could be enough for the special prosecutor to try to indict Libby for trying to coach a grand jury witness in advance of her testimony.

Lots and lots more to analyze and question in these two stories. As usual the bloggers are already on the case, here, here, here, here, and here and, with a call from an Editor & Publisher columnist to fire Miller now, here.