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

Friday, October 07, 2005

ABC News: Legal Experts: Rove Testimony a Risky Move

Rove's Testimony a Risky Move, Legal Experts Say, but Not Testifying Also Might Be Risky
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Presidential aide Karl Rove's upcoming fourth appearance before a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA officer's identity is a risky legal move because it opens him up to making statements that are inconsistent with what he previously has said, legal experts say.

Rove offered in July to return to the grand jury and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald accepted last Friday, lawyers familiar with the investigation said Thursday, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The grand jury normally meets on Fridays and was also scheduled to convene next week, but it was unclear when Rove would testify again.

"In a normal criminal investigation, most defense lawyers are extremely cautious about their clients testifying even once before a grand jury and are generally loathe to let them testify more than once," said former federal prosecutor E. Lawrence Barcella Jr. "This is a classic example of what happens when there's a large political overlay to a criminal investigation."

At the same time, it may be risky for Rove not to testify, since Fitzgerald warned Rove that prosecutors can no longer guarantee he won't be indicted. The warning came in a letter accepting Rove's offer to testify one more time.

Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor, said it was unusual for a witness to be called back to a grand jury four times and that the prosecutor's legally required warning to Rove before this next appearance is "an ominous sign" for the presidential adviser.

"It suggests Fitzgerald has learned new information that is tightening the noose," Gillers said.

After last week's appearance before the grand jury by New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Gillers said Fitzgerald may now suspect that Rove may in some way be implicated in the revelation of Valerie Plame's identity, or that he is investigating various people for obstruction of justice, false statements or perjury.

"That is the menu of risk for Rove," Gillers said.

Rove's lawyer said Thursday that Fitzgerald has assured him that he has made no decisions yet on charges and that Rove has not received a so-called target letter, usually the last step before a grand jury indictment.

Attorney Robert Luskin said Rove "continues to be cooperative voluntarily" with the investigation but that he could not further discuss his dealings with Fitzgerald's office.

While the outcome of the criminal investigation is uncertain for Rove, the legal status of another key figure, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, isn't publicly known.

Rove and Libby had conversations with reporters in July 2003 about the identity of Plame, a covert CIA officer, days after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, suggested the Bush administration had misrepresented prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Last Friday, reporter Miller testified about her conversations with Libby, while Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper testified in 2003 about a conversation with Libby and in July about a conversation with Rove. Miller's testimony came after she spent 85 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald's probe.

Leaking the identity of a covert agent can be a crime, but it must be done knowingly and the legal threshold for proving such a crime is high. Fitzgerald could also seek charges against anyone he thinks lied to investigators or tried to obstruct the case.

The U.S. attorney's manual doesn't allow prosecutors to bring witnesses before a grand jury if there is a possibility of future criminal charges unless the witnesses are notified in advance that their testimony can be used against them in a later indictment.

The prosecutor did not give Rove similar warnings before his three earlier grand jury appearances.

For almost two years, Fitzgerald has been investigating whether someone in the Bush administration leaked Plame's identity for political reasons.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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