WASHINGTON – The FBI has interviewed more than three dozen Bush administration officials, including political adviser Karl Rove (search) and press secretary Scott McClellan, in its investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.
The interviews have extended beyond the White House to other government agencies. The Defense and State departments and the CIA (search) itself also are part of the probe.
The focus, however, remains on the White House, two law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity. While the initial, informal interviews have yielded no major breaks, the FBI is satisfied that the dozen agents assigned to the probe are making progress and have not encountered any stalling tactics, the officials said Thursday.
So far, no grand jury subpoenas (search) have been issued, they said.
Boxloads of documents have been forwarded to the FBI team, including White House phone logs and e-mails. More documents are being produced, as the contents of individual items sometimes lead agents to request additional materials, one official said.
Investigators want to know who leaked the name of Valerie Plame (search), an undercover CIA officer, to syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July. Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson (search), who has said he believes his wife's identity was disclosed to discredit his assertions that the Bush administration exaggerated Iraq's nuclear capabilities to build the case for war.
Leaking of classified information, such as an undercover officer's name, is a criminal offense.
Democrats repeatedly have urged Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel (search) or recuse himself because of his close political ties to the White House. They also question why the Justice Department waited several days after the investigation began to ask White House staffers to preserve documents.
"It demands a full, fair and fearless investigation that is above politics," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "But so far, the way this probe has been conducted falls quite short of that bar."
Ashcroft, who has strongly condemned the leak, has not ruled out stepping aside but has said he believes his agency can conduct a thorough, impartial investigation.
Ashcroft's public statements about the leak mirror those included in a review he sent to Congress almost exactly one year ago -- long before the Plame case.
Leaks can compromise intelligence sources and methods and damage military operations, Ashcroft said in the review, requested by Congress as part of the 2002 intelligence authorization bill. Those responsible for them should be punished, he said.
"Until those who, without authority, reveal classified material are deterred by the real prospect of productive investigations and strict application of appropriate penalties, they will have no reason to stop their harmful actions," Ashcroft wrote.
Government agencies and departments should swiftly pursue investigations of suspected leaks and immediately request Justice Department involvement if a crime appears to have been committed, Ashcroft said.
Democrats have raised questions about the months that passed between publication of Plame's name by Novak in July and the initiation three weeks ago of a formal Justice Department investigation. Justice officials say it took the CIA that long to complete a questionnaire used to justify an investigation.