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Reporter delayed notes, lawyers say

Times editor voices regrets

WASHINGTON -- New York Times reporter Judith Miller belatedly gave prosecutors her notes of a key meeting in the CIA leak probe only after being shown White House records of it, and her boss declared yesterday that she appeared to have misled the newspaper about her role.

In an e-mail to Times employees, Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote that he wished he had more carefully interviewed Miller, and that he had ''missed what should have been significant alarm bells" that she had been the recipient of leaked information about the CIA officer at the heart of the case.

''Judy seems to have misled [Times Washington bureau chief] Phil Taubman about the extent of her involvement," Keller wrote in what he described as a lessons-learned e-mail. ''This alone should have been enough to make me probe deeper."

Keller said he might have been more willing to compromise with Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald ''if I had known the details of Judy's entanglement" with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby.

Fitzgerald is investigating the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Meanwhile, two lawyers familiar with Fitzgerald's investigation told the Associated Press that Fitzgerald first learned from White House records that Miller had met as early as June 23, 2003, with Libby and discussed the CIA operative.

In her first grand jury appearance Sept. 30 after being freed from prison for refusing to testify, Miller did not mention the meeting and retrieved her notes about it only when prosecutors showed her visitor logs showing she had met with Libby in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

The lawyers spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing secrecy of the grand jury probe and the prosecutor's desire to keep his communications with lawyers and witnesses confidential.

One lawyer familiar with Miller's testimony said the reporter told prosecutors at first that she did not believe the June meeting would have involved Plame. Miller said that, because she had just returned from covering the Iraq war, she was probably giving Libby an update about her experiences there, the lawyer said.

However, Miller retrieved her notes and discovered they indicated that Libby had given her information about Plame at that meeting.

Fitzgerald then arranged for her to return to the grand jury to testify about it, the lawyers said.

The evidence of that meeting has become important to the investigation because it indicates that Libby was passing information to reporters about Plame well before her husband, Joseph Wilson, went public with accusations that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to exaggerate the threat it posed.

Libby and top presidential political adviser Karl Rove have emerged as central figures in the probe because they had contacts with reporters who learned Plame's identity or disclosed it in news stories.

Fitzgerald began his probe to determine whether presidential aides violated a law prohibiting the intentional disclosure of covert CIA officers, and had tried to out Plame to punish Wilson for his criticism, undercut the credibility of his allegations. or silence similar critics.

But the investigation has also examined evidence of a possible coverup. Fitzgerald has made clear to defense lawyers that he could pursue charges such as false testimony, obstruction of justice, or mishandling of classified information. As those discussions have gotten more intense in recent days, the White House is increasingly wary of indictments.

AP reported earlier this week that Rove testified Libby may have been his initial source of information inside the White House about Plame before he talked to reporters.

Prosecutors have linked the vice president's top aide to contacts with at least three reporters in the affair. Libby met three times with Miller before Plame was outed, though she never wrote a story herself.

Conflicts between presidential aides' testimony and other evidence could result in criminal charges. The grand jury investigating the matter for the last two years is set to expire next Friday.

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