Whammo! NBC has a late report that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the White House broke federal law by exposing the identity of one of its undercover employees, Valerie Plame, to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson.
Wilson of course is the former foreign service officer who made the trip to Niger to investigate those claims of uranium sales to Iraq.
The way this works is that the CIA does its own investigation to determine whether there is reason to believe laws were broken. But the CIA has no law enforcement powers itself. So it makes a referral to the Justice Department, which obviously does have law enforcement powers. If the folks at Justice concur in the Agency’s determination that there is reason to believe that laws were broken, they then task the FBI with mounting a formal criminal investigation.
(Joe Wilson discussed some of these particulars and the issue of possible White House leaks about his wife in his September 16th interview with TPM, which is now available in .pdf format.)
On its face, this news tonight almost certainly means that the CIA’s internal investigation concluded that laws were broken or that there was sufficient evidence of wrong-doing for a criminal investigation to be undertaken.
The decision on whether to task the FBI with investigating the White House is now in hands of John Ashcroft. Once that happens — if that happens — it’s not a matter of blogs and chat shows, but subpoenas and depositions.