News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Focus renewed on role of Rove in CIA leak

By Dan Balz


WASHINGTON - The jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller on Wednesday put the issue of press freedom and the confidentiality of sources on front pages across the country, but the heart of the case remains what it has been from the outset: whether senior Bush officials broke the law in the disclosure of a CIA covert operative's identity.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has spent the better part of two years trying to answer that question, in a case that grew out of the angry debate over whether President Bush and his advisers hyped or falsified intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify going to war with Iraq in spring 2003. At issue is whether administration officials misused classified information to try to discredit one of their potentially most damaging critics.

Now, a fast-moving series of decisions over the past week involving Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper has brought a renewed public focus on what role White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove might have played in disclosing the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

A White House spokesman long ago asserted Rove was "not involved" in disclosing Plame's identity. Rove, who has testified before a grand jury investigating the case, likewise has maintained he did not break the law, saying in a television interview, "I didn't know her name and I didn't leak her name."

But Fitzgerald still appears to want more answers about Rove's role. The prosecutor is apparently focused on Rove's conversations with Cooper.

The debate two summers ago over why the United States went to war engaged some of the most senior officials in the government and included an incendiary accusation by former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, who had challenged the administration over claims that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. Wilson based his claim on information gathered on a CIA-sponsored trip to Niger.

At the height of the fury over Wilson's charges, in a column published July 14, 2003, Robert Novak wrote that Wilson was married to Plame, and cited two senior administration officials saying she was behind the decision to send her husband on the trip. The outcry over the revelation eventually forced the administration to turn to Fitzgerald to investigate, with Bush saying he was eager to get to the bottom of the case. The president and a number of top administration officials have been called to testify.

After Time turned over its documents late last week, Newsweek reported that e-mail records showed Rove was one of the sources for Cooper on Plame and Wilson. That story led Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, to say in an interview last weekend that his client had spoken to Cooper around the time Novak's column appeared in July 2003. But he added that Rove had testified fully in the case and had been assured by Fitzgerald that he is not a target in the investigation.

More evidence points to Rove as the source Cooper was seeking to protect -- although what information was provided is not clear. Rove and Cooper spoke once before the Novak column was available, but the interview did not involve the Iraq controversy, according to a person close to the investigation.

Cooper on Wednesday agreed to testify in the case, reversing his long-standing refusal after saying he had been released from his pledge of confidentiality just hours before he expected to be sent to jail for contempt of court. In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Luskin denied Cooper had received a call from Rove releasing him from his confidentiality pledge. Thursday, however, Luskin declined to comment on a New York Times report that the release came as a result of negotiations involving Rove's and Cooper's attorneys, nor would he engage speculation that Cooper was released from his pledge in some other fashion than a direct conversation with Rove. "I'm not going to comment any further," Luskin said.


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