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

Friday, October 07, 2005 U.S. - Rove Takes on CIA Leak Grand Jury Again in High-Stakes Gamble

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Presidential adviser Karl Rove, who has played for the highest stakes in American politics, is taking his biggest gamble yet to avoid possible indictment in the leak of a covert Central Intelligence Agency operative's identity.

Rove, 54, volunteered to testify again before a grand jury investigating whether officials in President George W. Bush's administration were the source of the disclosure, said his lawyer, Robert Luskin. A person familiar with the case said Rove didn't get any assurance that he wouldn't be indicted.

This would be Rove's fourth time testifying before the grand jury. Repeat appearances carry the risk that the witness makes a mistake or contradicts earlier testimony, said E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., a former federal prosecutor. He compared volunteering to go in again to a repeat performance in a carnival dunking booth.

``Imagine you're the guy sitting up on top of a barrel of water, only in this case, the barrel is filled with something much worse,'' said Barcella, now a defense lawyer at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker in Washington. ``Usually you don't volunteer to get back up on top of that barrel.''

``Is it unusual? Yes. Is it unheard of? No,'' Barcella said. ``When you graft onto a criminal investigation a political overlay, strange things happen.''

Luskin said Rove volunteered in July to appear before the grand jury again after Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper testified about his conversations with the White House adviser.

No `Notification'

Rove ``has not received any notification that he is a target of the grand jury investigation,'' Luskin said yesterday.

``The prosecuting attorney has affirmed to us that he has made no decision on whether to bring charges,'' he said. ``Karl remains willing to cooperate in any way necessary.''

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, declined to comment.

Democrats reacted immediately to the news that Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff whom Bush called ``the architect'' of his 2004 re-election victory, would be questioned again. ``It could well be that some very high-ranking officials in this administration participated in a significant breach of national security,'' Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement yesterday.

Fitzgerald is wrapping up his two-year investigation into whether Bush administration officials violated a 1982 law designed to protect the identity of covert agents. While each case is different, the repeat appearance may suggest Fitzgerald is looking at Rove in a new light in the probe, said John Q. Barrett, a former federal prosecutor.

Witness, Subject, Target

``There are three tiers: the witness, who is usually a storyteller with some information of relevance to an investigation; a subject, someone whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation; and the target,'' said Barrett, a professor at St. John's Law School in New York. ``It may be that Rove is moving between one level to the next.''

In addition to investigating whether CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity was illegally leaked to reporters, Fitzgerald is also looking into whether any officials lied or obstructed justice in their testimony.

Charges of this kind may prove easier to sustain than bringing a case under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it illegal to knowingly or willfully reveal the identity of a covert agent. Fitzgerald also could bring a criminal conspiracy case against some of his grand jury witnesses.

The Grand Jury's Term

The grand jury's term ends Oct. 28 and Fitzgerald said in court papers in June that his probe was mostly complete except for the questioning of two reporters, Cooper at Time magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times, both of whom have since testified.

``What this may well indicate is that Fitzgerald wants to review some of Rove's previous testimony,'' said James Cole, a former Justice Department prosecutor who is now a partner at Bryan Cave LLP in Washington. ``Usually, when a witness is called back, it's to review what they said before in light of some new information.''

The case stemmed from the publication in July 2003 of Plame's name after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly questioned Bush's rationale for the war in Iraq.

Wilson had been dispatched by the CIA to investigate reports that Iraq tried to buy ``yellow cake'' uranium from Niger. On July 6, 2003, he published an opinion article in the New York Times saying he found no evidence of such an attempt and that the administration ``twisted'' some of the intelligence about Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons to justify the war. The U.S. found no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled.

Rove and Libby

Shortly after Wilson's article was published, Rove and Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, discussed his allegations with several reporters on the condition the journalists not reveal their names, according to court documents and published accounts.

Plame's identity as a CIA operative was first published by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. He quoted two unidentified administration officials as saying Wilson got the CIA assignment on the recommendation of his wife.

Novak hasn't revealed the source of his information, nor said whether he's been questioned by Fitzgerald or testified in the case. Time's Cooper said Rove and Libby discussed Wilson's article with him, and they didn't mention Plame by name.


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