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For almost two years, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has led an investigation to determine whether anyone acted illegally when the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame was made public. After hearing testimony from some of Washington's most powerful figures, a grand jury is expected to issue indictments as soon as Friday. The Monitor's White House correspondent, Linda Feldmann, answers key questions about the case. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Patrick Fitzgerald's official title.]

Q. How did this affair begin?

At its heart lie questions about the Bush administration's case for war against Iraq. On Jan. 28, 2003, in his State of the Union address, President Bush included these 16 words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The implication was that Iraq was developing a nuclear-weapons program. But US intelligence officials had by then - and have since - expressed doubts about that claim. In July 2003, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to two African countries and Iraq, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times disputing Mr. Bush's statement.

The CIA, he wrote, sent him to Niger in 2002 to determine if Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. He concluded no. One week after Mr. Wilson's op-ed, syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."

At issue is whether Mr. Novak's government sources blew her cover as a CIA agent, in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982.

That law aims to protect the identities of "certain United States undercover intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources." Mr. Wilson has claimed that White House officials leaked his wife's CIA role to the press as revenge for his criticism of the president's case against Iraq. Other observers say the sources were merely steering journalists away from Wilson's allegations.

Q. Why have two senior White House officials - Bush's top adviser, Karl Rove, and Vice Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - faced such intense scrutiny?

In grand jury testimony, several journalists revealed that one or both men had spoken to them about Wilson's wife and her employment.

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