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Plamegate: 20 Questions

Judith Miller's 'missing notebook' raises new questions in the search for the leaker of Valerie Plame's identity.
 
 
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If its recent track record is any guide, The New York Times , later today or tomorrow, will get around to confirming Michael Isikoff's Newsweek revelation [a search of the site indicates that they've yet to report it -- ed] late Saturday that the missing notes Judith Miller has suddenly found and turned over to the federal prosecutor in the Plame case were located in a notebook in the newspaper's Washington, D.C. bureau. The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has now scheduled another meeting with Miller on Tuesday.

Besides the ongoing mystery of why the Times is always a step or two behind its competition in reporting on its own reporter, this latest twist raises several tantalizing issues. If anyone at the Times objects to raising the following questions: It's your own fault for not disclosing more about this case yourself.

Before getting to The Case of the Missing Notebook: What's with Miller , after going to jail for 85 days -- purportedly to stand up for a journalistic principle (protecting a source) -- now turning over her notes to the prosecutor, apparently with her newspaper's blessing?

The notes in question, we now know, cover a Miller discussion with I. Lewis Libby on June 23, 2003, two weeks before Joseph Wilson's WMD Op-Ed that was thought to have set the Bush backlash in motion. These notes, the Times has disclosed, do mention Joseph Wilson. Isikoff observes that the notebook is "significant because Wilson's identity was not yet public."

Miller's testimony to the grand jury nine days ago only covered her interviews with Libby on July 8 and July 12 of that year.

So, let's proceed:

--Did Libby lie to the grand jury about not talking to Miller about Wilson earlier than July 8? Did Miller lie about that? If so, why?

--How did Fitzgerald find out about these notes? Did he know about the June conversation for quite some time but just recently found out about the notes? Or did Miller come forward herself? If she did, was it after someone tipped off Fitzgerald about the June interview?

--Does the existence of a Miller chat with Libby two weeks before the Wilson Op-Ed, and well before Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, indicate that Libby, indeed, was the original source of the Plame leak? And/or does it suggest that Miller herself was a "carrier" of that leak to others in the media and the administration, well before Novak's bombshell?

--If my research is correct, Fitzgerald's original subpoena involving Miller only covered her discussions about Plame post-Wilson's Op-Ed, which would explain why the June 23 interview may have slipped under the prosecutor's radar. In any case, if this June 23 chat was secret until now (for whatever reason), it might explain why Libby felt confident enough to urge Miller to testify --- and she felt okay about it herself, after his waiver.

--In that vein, consider the now infamous "aspens are already turning" Sept. 15, 2005, letter (and related column) from "Scooter" to "Judy." In that letter he practically instructed her on what to avoid and what to focus on in her testimony, specifically mentioning the "July" conversations. Was this his way of saying, "No one else knows about June 25, so it's safe for you to avoid that"?

--We know the Libby/Miller talk on June 23, 2003, involved Joe Wilson. One presumes it had something to do with his trip to Africa. Or did it actually focus on the original Niger/uranium claims and forged documents? Or perhaps Miller had learned that Wilson had submitted his Op-Ed to her newspaper, or at least had been asked to write one?

--Was Miller allowed to "redact" the June 23 notes, as she did with the July notes?

--Is the Times' reluctance to report fully on this case the result of being in a bit of hot water itself with the prosecutor? You'll recall that the prosecutor long ago subpoenaed the paper for any notes related to the probe and the Times replied that it had nothing --- or anything it did have belonged to its reporters (company policy, it said). Fitzgerald never seemed to challenge that. If Miller turned over the notes herself, is the Times still claiming the rule still stands?

--And while we're at it: Why have the Times' seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting? And where's Public Editor Byron Calame?

Greg Mitchell ( gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is the editor of E&P. He is a finalist for an Online Journalism Award this year in the Commentary category.