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

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reporter says probe cooperation could hamper newsgathering

Reporter Says He First Learned of C.I.A. Operative From Rove

Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, said the White House senior adviser Karl Rove was the first person to tell him that the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was a C.I.A. officer, according to a first-person account in this week's issue of the magazine.

The account also stated that Mr. Rove said that Mr. Wilson's wife had played a role in sending Mr. Wilson to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq.

The article, a description of Mr. Cooper's testimony last Wednesday to a federal grand jury trying to determine whether White House officials illegally disclosed the identity of a covert intelligence officer, offered the most detailed personal account of how a White House official did not merely confirm what a journalist knew but supplied that information.

Mr. Cooper said in his article that Mr. Rove did not mention the name of Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, or say that she was a covert officer. But, he wrote, "Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'W.M.D.'? Yes.

"Is any of this a crime?" he added. "Beats me."

The details in Mr. Cooper's article about his conversation with Mr. Rove are largely consistent with the broad outlines of Mr. Rove's grand jury testimony about the conversation as portrayed in news accounts. But Mr. Cooper's article, a rare first-person look inside the deliberations from one of the prime participants in this political and journalistic high drama, is likely to add kindling to a growing political storm over whether there was a White House effort to disclose Ms. Wilson's identity as political payback for her husband's criticism of the administration.

Mr. Rove's allies have said that he did not initiate any conversations with reporters and that he was merely warning them off what he said was faulty information. But White House statements over the past two years have left the impression that administration officials were not involved in identifying Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Cooper also wrote about a conversation he initiated with I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Although it has been known that reporters had spoken to Mr. Libby, it was unknown what Mr. Libby had said. His conversation with Mr. Cooper is the first indication that Mr. Libby was aware of Ms. Wilson's role in her husband's trip to Africa. When Mr. Cooper asked if Mr. Libby knew of that, Mr. Libby said he had heard that as well, the article said.

Both Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove sought to dispel speculation that Mr. Cheney had played a role in dispatching Mr. Wilson on his mission.

Mr. Cooper's article was the fulcrum for a day full of partisan bickering on the television news talk shows, cable news channels and the Web. Some Democrats, saying Mr. Rove's credibility was in tatters, called once again for his dismissal from the White House, while Republicans continued to defend him, saying Democrats are prejudging a continuing investigation and are injuring Mr. Rove's reputation with information that actually vindicates and exonerates him.

"It's wrong, it's outrageous, and folks involved in this, frankly, owe Karl Rove an apology," Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said yesterday on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, declined to comment yesterday about the details in Mr. Cooper's article. He has said previously that prosecutors have advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target in the case. Mr. Libby and his lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, have said in the past that they will not discuss the matter. Efforts to reach Mr. Tate yesterday were unsuccessful.

Mr. Cooper found himself in front of the grand jury Wednesday morning, just one week after a receiving "an express personal release from my source," which spared him a jail sentence for civil contempt of court. Another reporter facing the same punishment that day, Judith Miller of The New York Times, was jailed after refusing to disclose her source for an article she never wrote.

Mr. Cooper had refused to testify about what a confidential source, now known to be Mr. Rove, had told him for an article that appeared on Time's Web site on July 17, 2003, about administration officials "having taken public and private whacks" at Mr. Wilson.

It can be a crime to knowingly name a covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Rove's supporters have argued that he did not know of her history as a covert operative and questioned whether she remained one under the definitions in the statute. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the leak in September 2003. But with pressure mounting on the administration to appoint an independent counsel, Attorney General John Ashcroft that December recused himself from the inquiry, and Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a federal prosecutor in Chicago, was chosen as special counsel.

Under federal law, prosecutors and grand jurors are sworn to secrecy. And while witnesses are free to discuss their testimony, Mr. Fitzgerald has asked that the witnesses in this case not comment, a request that administration officials have heeded.

Mr. Cooper did not, instead providing a glimpse inside an investigation that has engulfed Mr. Rove, the quintessential Bush insider who is on the cover of Time and Newsweek this week and the subject of countless television news segments.

Mr. Cooper estimated that he spent about one third of his two and a half hours of testimony responding to jurors' questions, rather than to the prosecutor's, although Mr. Fitzgerald asked the questions on their behalf. "Virtually all the questions centered on the week of July 6, 2003," Mr. Cooper wrote. Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared in The New York Times that day. In it, he challenged the veracity of 16 words in Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, which claimed that British intelligence believed that Saddam Hussein had sought nuclear fuel in Africa.

Mr. Cooper, who had just a few weeks earlier become a White House correspondent after serving as deputy bureau chief in Washington, wrote that he called Mr. Rove the next Friday, July 11. He said he told the grand jury he was interested in "an ancillary question" to whoever had vetted the president's State of the Union address: "why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Mr. Wilson" after the White House had said the claim about nuclear fuel should not have been in the speech.

But the Bush White House is not known for backing down from challenges, and Mr. Wilson had asserted that the administration had "twisted" intelligence about the threat posed by Iraq and was becoming increasingly public about his views after the Op-Ed article appeared.

Mr. Cooper said he spoke to Mr. Rove on "deep background," saying the sourcing description of "double super secret background" he used in his e-mail message to his boss was "not a journalistic term of art" but a reference to the film "Animal House," where the Delta House fraternity was placed on "double secret probation."

"The notes, and my subsequent e-mails, go on to indicate that Rove told me material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and his findings," Mr. Cooper wrote.

Mr. Cooper also wrote that he told the grand jury he was certain Mr. Rove never mentioned Ms. Wilson by name, and that he did not learn of her identity until several days later, when he either he read it a column by the syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who mentioned her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, or he found it through a Google search.

"Rove did, however, clearly indicate that she worked at the 'agency' - by that, I told the grand jury, I inferred he obviously meant the C.I.A. and not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency. Rove added that that she worked on W.M.D. (the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction) issues and that she was responsible for sending Wilson. This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife."

The Senate Intelligence Committee, in its report, said interviews and documents provided by the C.I.A.'s counterproliferation division indicate that Ms. Wilson suggested her husband for the trip. Ms. Wilson portrayed her role as minimal to the committee and said she attended a meeting involving Mr. Wilson, intelligence analysts and other C.I.A. officials only to introduce her husband.

In his article, Mr. Cooper also shared a memory that was not in his notes or e-mail messages: Mr. Rove's ending the phone call by saying, "I've already said too much."

"This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else," he wrote. "I don't know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years."

In the article, Mr. Cooper writes only of his dealings with Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby, but under questioning by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Mr. Cooper hinted that he might have had more sources for the original article.

"Did Fitzgerald's questions give me a sense of where the investigation is heading? Perhaps," Mr. Cooper added. "He asked me several different ways if Rove indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the C.I.A. (He did not, I told the grand jury.) Maybe Fitzgerald is interested in whether Rove knew her C.I.A. ties through a person or through a document."


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