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Contacts between reporter, Cheney aide questioned

Dispute centered on letter from Libby

WASHINGTON -- New details about Judith Miller's decision to cooperate in the CIA leak probe are raising questions about whether Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and his defense lawyer tried to steer the New York Times reporter's testimony.

The dispute arose as the newspaper yesterday detailed three conversations Miller had with the Cheney aide, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, in the summer of 2003 about Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson and Wilson's wife, covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The issue over the contacts between Miller, Libby, and their representatives has arisen even though Libby's lawyer insisted his client granted an unconditional waiver of confidentiality more than a year ago for the reporter to testify.

In urging her to cooperate with prosecutors, Libby wrote to Miller while she was in jail in September: ''I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all. . . . The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

One of Miller's lawyers, Robert Bennett, said yesterday on ABC's ''This Week" that Libby's letter was ''a very stupid thing to do."

When asked whether he thought Libby's letter was an attempt to steer her prospective testimony, Bennett said, ''I wouldn't say the answer to that is yes, but it was very troubling."

In a first-person account in the Times, Miller said that in her recent grand jury testimony, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asked her ''whether I thought Mr. Libby had tried to shape my testimony."

Miller said she told Fitzgerald the letter could be perceived as an effort by Libby ''to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity." But she said her notes of the conversations ''suggested that we had discussed her job" at the CIA and not her name.

Miller wrote Plame's name in the same notebook she used when taking notes of her Libby interviews in 2003, but the reporter said she did not think she had gotten the name from Libby. She said she could not recall from whom she got the name.

The Times reported that more than a year ago, Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, passed along to Miller lawyer Floyd Abrams information about Libby's grand jury testimony. During the testimony, Libby said he had not told Miller the name or undercover status of Plame, the Times reported.

Miller told the newspaper that Abrams gave her the following description of a conversation Abrams had with Tate: ''He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn't give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, 'Don't go there,' or, 'We don't want you there.' "

In an e-mail to the Times on Friday, Tate called Miller's interpretation outrageous. ''I never once suggested that she should not testify," Tate wrote. ''It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary."

Tate added, '' 'Don't go there' or 'We don't want you there' is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested."

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