Was Ari the Other Leaker?

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"Was Ari the Other Leaker?"

Bloomberg News raised eyebrows today with this vague mention of former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer:

People familiar with the inquiry say Fitzgerald also is reviewing testimony by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, though it is not clear whether the prosecutor is focusing on him or seeking information about higher-ups. Fleischer last night refused to comment.

This actually isn’t the first time Fleischer has been mentioned in connection to Plamegate — a Los Angeles Times report from last October noted that Fleischer has denied he was one of the leakers.

But we know he has been interviewed by the FBI in relation to the leak. And it’s worth noting that Fleischer was among the very first Bush officials to go on the record criticizing Wilson. From March ’04 :

In the subpoenaed July 12 [2003] transcript of a briefing in Nigeria, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer called Wilson a “lower-level official” and said Wilson had made flawed and incomplete statements. Fleischer did not return calls Friday.

So what about Fleischer piqued the Special Prosecutor’s interest? Details are still uncertain, but news reports suggest one theory for what might have occurred. In the days after Wilson’s NYT column was published but before Novak’s article appeared, Ari Fleischer was among the White House officials aboard Air Force One on a presidential trip to Africa, where he might have had access to the classified State Department document brought aboard by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell that likely tipped administration officials off to Plame’s true identity.

Full details below.

Classified State Department Report Taken Onto Air Force One Thought to Be Source of Plame’s Identity

What we do know is there was a classified State Department report that said this, that was taken by Secretary of State Powell with him on the trip to Africa that President Bush was then on, and many senior White House aides were on.

That classified State Department report appears to have been — or may well have been the source for the information that Rove and others were then dishing out to reporters. And if that’s the case, there still may be — we don’t know yet, but there still may be an instance where classified information was provided to reporters. [Michael Isikoff, 7/11/05]

In February ’04, Fitzgerald Focused His Attention on the White House Communications Staff

A federal grand jury investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s identity has heard testimony from at least four current and former White House communications aides, people familiar with the probe said Tuesday.

Press secretary Scott McClellan and Adam Levine, who formerly worked in the press office, testified before the panel last Friday. A deputy in McClellan’s office, Claire Buchan, said she appeared before the panel on Jan. 30.

One person close to the investigation said that Levine was questioned mainly about White House press office procedures. Investigators may have decided to talk to Levine, this person said, because Fleischer and Bartlett were with Bush on a July 7-12 trip to Africa just prior to publication of Novak’s column, and McClellan, then Fleischer’s deputy, was on vacation. [Associated Press, 2/11/04

One month later, Fitzgerald Subpoenaed Fleischer Transcript and Air Force One Phone Records

A transcript subpoenaed in the CIA leak probe reveals the White House press operation began efforts to personally discredit former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV days before a columnist blew the cover of his CIA-officer wife.

As Newsday reported Friday, a federal grand jury served three subpoenas on the White House in January for Air Force One telephone records and a transcript of a press briefing during the presidential trip to Africa the week before Robert Novak’s July 14 column identifying CIA officer Valerie Plame .

In the subpoenaed July 12 transcript of a briefing in Nigeria, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer called Wilson a “lower-level official” and said Wilson had made flawed and incomplete statements. Fleischer did not return calls Friday. [Newsday, 3/6/04]

Fitzgeral Suspected Air Force One Phones Were Used to Leak Plame’s Identity

The White House will comply with federal grand jury subpoenas seeking phone records from Air Force One to determine whether presidential aides used the aircraft’s phones to leak the name of a CIA employee to reporters, a White House spokesman said Friday. [Knight-Ridder, 3/6/04]

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