VALERIE PLAME UPDATE….Via Arthur Silber and Mark Kleiman, there have been a couple of small developments in the Valerie Plame investigation recently. First, in what the New York Times describes as an “unusual step,” the director of the FBI’s Washington office has been removed from the list of officials with access to the case:
The official, Michael A. Mason, one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most senior managers, was taken off the list in an effort to restrict information about the case, the officials said.
Customarily, a senior official like Mr. Mason would have full access to details of the case, which is being investigated mainly by agents from his office, although it is being supervised by F.B.I. headquarters.
….The decision to drop Mr. Mason and other officials from the list was made after Mr. Ashcroft emphasized to subordinates the importance of avoiding leaks in the case, one of the most politically delicate investigations of his tenure.
I’ve been agnostic on the idea of whether a special prosecutor should be appointed in this case, but this nudges me in the direction of thinking it would be a good idea. Ashcroft simply shouldn’t be a part of this case in any way, and he certainly shouldn’t be providing direction that affects who’s involved in the case and who isn’t.
Of particular interest, the two sources said, were contacts between White House officials and the Republican National Committee during the burgeoning scandal. Probers are interested in how the Bush administration and party officials strategized to stymie negative press and to counter public criticism by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV of the leak of his wife’s status as a CIA officer.
The administration sources said, however, that they don’t think the investigators are probing the efforts to discredit Wilson and Plame as potential criminal conduct but rather as a way of determining who leaked her identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak.
“I guess their thinking is that if you were involved in efforts to damage their reputations or discredit them since the leak, you might have been the one to have leaked the name,” said one of the administration officials. “And if you are someone managing the press response . . . you might have also been in contact with the leaker?or know who it is.”
As always, stay tuned.