David Johnson has a long front-page story story in Tuesday’s New York Times about the progress in the Plame investigation. He seems to have lots of progress to report on.
Senior White House staff, including press spokesman Scott McClellan, have started to appear before the grand jury. At the same time, the prosecutors on the case — career prosecutors from the Criminal Division of the Justice Department — are conducting “tense and sometimes combative interviews” with various White House staff members, and threatening them with charges of obstruction of justice when they develop conveniently porous memories.
Apparently “Scooter” Libby was keeping “copious” notes, which he and several other people, including the President, may have cause to bitterly regret.
The prosecutors are asking interviewees to agree to keep the questions secret — which would help prevent coordination of stories — but their lawyers mostly aren’t willing to play.
The prosecutors seem to be doing a good job of holding their cards close, but the current focus seems to be on the “senior White House official” who told the Washington Post that “two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists” to unmask Plame. They’re proceeding on the theory that, if they can identify that “senior White House official,” he can give them the actual leakers. Seems like a good theory to me.
Based on this story, I’d be prepared to bet on indictments by spring, which should put this story at the top of the news and keep it there for the next several months.
More here from Mike Allen and Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post (also Page 1). Mary Matalin has also testified before the grand jury. In addition, Allen and Schmidt report that Karl Rove, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Libby, and Cathie Martin, another assistant to Cheney have been interviewed for the investigation, though they report that agents are doing the questioning, which Johnson attributed to prosecutors. (Agents would be the more usual interviewers, and would be far more prone to make the reported threats to prosecute uncooperative witnesses, so my guess is that the Allen and Schmidt have this detail right and Johnson has it wrong.)
A glaring omission from that list: John Hannah, previously fingered as having been nailed and as now being pressured to give up his superiors. But Allen and Schmidt don’t comment on the absence of his name from their list.
Allen and Schmidt bury a fact that might have justified a separate story. The FBI, they report, is at “a critical stage” into an investigation of the forged documents about yellowcake from Niger that led to the Wilson mission in the first place. It never occurred to me that those forgeries could be prosecuted as frauds on the government, but of course they could if the guilty parties could be identified. That case could be extremely embarrassing to the officials who were taken in, or who used the bogus information to take others in, and — if the Iraqi National Congress turned out to be responsible — could have repercussions for the developing political situation in Iraq.
Having the Times and the Post seriously competing to cover this story (after long somnolence at the Times is both a sign that the papers think there’s gold here and an incentive for both papers to keep digging hard.