NEW YORK — Notes in the hand of a federal prosecutor suggest the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney (search) first heard of the covert CIA officer central to a leak investigation from Cheney himself, The New York Times reported.

The newspaper said notes of a previously undisclosed June 12, 2003, conversation between I. Lewis Libby (search) and Cheney appear to differ from Libby's grand jury testimony that he first heard of Valerie Plame from journalists.

The newspaper identified its sources in the story in Tuesday's editions only as lawyers who are involved in the case.

Click here to read the New York Times story.

Libby has emerged at the center of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's (search) criminal investigation in recent weeks because of the Cheney aide's conversations about Plame with Times reporter Judith Miller.

Miller said Libby spoke to her about Plame and her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, on three occasions — although not necessarily by name and without indicating he knew she was undercover.

Libby's notes show that Cheney knew Plame worked at the CIA more than a month before her identity was publicly exposed by columnist Robert Novak.

(Story continues below)

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At the time of the Cheney-Libby conversation, Wilson had been referred to — but not by name — in the Times and on the morning of June 12, 2003 on the front page of The Washington Post.

The Times reported that Libby's notes indicate Cheney got his information about Wilson from then-CIA Director George Tenet, but said there was no indication he knew her name.

The notes also contain no suggestion that Cheney or Libby knew at the time of their conversation of Plame's undercover status or that her identity was classified, the paper said.

Disclosing the identify of a covert CIA agent can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent is classified as working undercover.

The Times quoted lawyers involved in the case as saying they had no indication Fitzgerald was considering charging Cheney with a crime.

But the paper said any efforts by Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Cheney might be viewed by a prosecutor as attempt to impede the inquiry, which could be a crime.

According to a former intelligence official close to Tenet, the former CIA chief has not been in touch with Fitzgerald's staff for more than 15 months and was not asked to testify before the grand jury even though he was interviewed by Fitzgerald and his staff.

The official told the Times that Tenet declined to comment on the investigation.

Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, did not return phone calls and e-mail to his office. The White House also did not return calls.

Fitzgerald is expected to decide this week whether to seek criminal indictments in the case. Lawyers involved in the case have said Libby and Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser, both face the possibility of indictment.

Fitzgerald questioned Cheney under oath more than a year ago, but it is not known what the vice president told the prosecutor.

Cheney has said little in public about what he knew. In September 2003, he told NBC he did not know Wilson or who sent him on a trip to Niger in 2002 to check into intelligence — some of it later deemed unreliable — that Iraq may have been seeking to buy uranium there.

"I don't know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back," Cheney said at the time. "... I don't know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn't judge him. I have no idea who hired him."

The Cheney-Libby conversation occurred the same day that The Washington Post published a front-page story about the CIA sending a retired diplomat to Africa, where he was unable to corroborate intelligence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger. The diplomat was Wilson.

A year after Wilson's trip, President Bush cited British intelligence in his State of the Union address as suggesting that Iraq was pursuing uranium in Africa.