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By PETE YOST and JOHN SOLOMON
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald met Wednesday with the grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity, putting the finishing touches on a two-year criminal probe that has ensnared two senior White House aides.
Fitzgerald and the grand jurors entered the courthouse around 9 a.m. EDT, with just three days left before the jury's term is set to expire. Away from the jury, FBI agents conducted a handful of last-minute interviews to check facts key to the case.
Lawyers representing key White House officials expected Fitzgerald to decide as early as Wednesday whether to charge I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and top presidential political adviser Karl Rove.
Both Rove and Libby joined other officials Wednesday at the daily White House senior staff meeting, as usual.
The grand jury Fitzgerald has used in the investigation is set to expire Friday. Fitzgerald could charge one or more presidential aides with violating a law prohibiting the intentional unmasking of an undercover CIA officer.
In recent weeks the prosecutor has also examined other charges such as mishandling classified information, false statements and obstruction of justice.
Fitzgerald has been in Washington since Monday and over the last two days dispatched FBI agents to conduct some 11th-hour interviews, according to lawyers close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
One set of interviews occurred in the neighborhood of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame was outed as an undercover CIA officer. Agents asked neighbors whether they had any inkling that Plame works for the CIA.
"They wanted to know how well we knew her, which is very well," said neighbor David Tillotson. "Did we know anything about her position before the story broke? Absolutely not."
Agents also interviewed a former unidentified associate of Rove's about his activities around the time the leaks occurred.
Two lawyers familiar with the activities said the interviews involved basic fact-checking and did not appear to plow new ground.
Fitzgerald may want to establish Plame had carefully protected her CIA identity as part of the process of determining whether the disclosure of her name to the news media hurt national interests.
On Tuesday, the White House sidestepped questions about whether Cheney passed Plame's identity on to Libby.
Libby's notes suggest that he first heard from Cheney that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, The New York Times reported this week.
Columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame's name on July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson said publicly that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
The timing of Wilson's criticism was devastating for the Bush White House, which was struggling to come to grips with the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.
President Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was the administration's main argument for going to war.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)