Cheney under the spotlight in CIA leak case

The U.S. prosecutor in the CIA leak case has told a court he plans to use as evidence a newspaper article with notes that he says were hand-written by Vice President Dick Cheney referring to Valerie Plame shortly before she was exposed as a CIA operative.

The notes show Cheney and his former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were “acutely focused” on the July 6, 2003, article written by Plame’s husband, Bush administration critic and former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, said Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the pre-trial filing made on Friday.

A Cheney spokeswoman said the matter is a court proceeding and referred a request for comment to Fitzgerald’s office.

Fitzgerald said the notes show that Cheney and Libby were focused on Wilson and “on the assertions made in his article, and on responding to those assertions.”

The article asked whether the administration manipulated intelligence in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the article, Wilson wrote he went to Niger in 2002 at the CIA’s request to check out reports that the African nation had sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq in the late 1990s. The processed ore can be used to make a nuclear weapon.

Wilson said he concluded on his tip that it was unlikely such a transaction ever took place. Later, the alleged African uranium connection was cited by the war’s backers as evidence that Iraq had developed or had tried to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Shortly after Wilson’s article appeared, the identity of Plame, his wife, as a covert CIA operative was leaked to journalists. Fitzgerald is probing who blew Plame’s cover.

The copy of the article where Fitzgerald said Cheney made his notes ask if it is ordinary for former ambassadors to travel for the government to check out reports. “Or did his wife send him on a junket?” asks one notation.

Libby and senior Bush adviser Karl Rove spoke to reporters about Plame before her identity was made public by newspaper columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.

In October, Libby was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents and a grand jury during the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to go to trial in January.

In the filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fitzgerald said admission of the annotated article was needed to show jurors how “beginning on July 6, 2003, and continuing through the following week, the attention of the defendant, his colleagues, and the media was heavily focused on responding to the issues raised in that article.”

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