Sunday, October 23, 2005



Weeks after he took over the investigation 22 months ago into the unauthorized disclosure of a CIA operative's identity, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald got authority from the Justice Department to expand his inquiry to include any criminal attempts to interfere with his probe, according to a letter posted Friday on Fitzgerald's new Web site.

Fitzgerald is nearing a decision on whether he will prosecute anyone when the federal grand jury term ends Friday. The letter specified that he could investigate and prosecute "perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses."

According to a lawyer familiar with the case, the current speculation about such charges eventually arising appeared to have occurred to Fitzgerald in the first months of his inquiry.

In a letter dated Feb. 6, 2004, then-Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey said that he was clarifying, "at your [Fitzgerald's] request," the added authority to investigate and prosecute "crimes committed with intent to interfere with your investigation." Fitzgerald's appointment as special counsel on Dec. 30, 2003, after then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft recused himself, gave him specific authority to investigate "the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity," according to another letter from Comey posted on the Web site.

"The fact that he [Fitzgerald] asked for authority that he probably already had, but wanted spelled out, makes it arguable that he had run into something rather quickly," Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris said yesterday.