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."

Journalist at center of leak probe criticizes Time boss

Reporter says probe cooperation could hamper newsgathering

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Time magazine reporter said Sunday his boss' decision to turn over his notes and e-mails to a grand jury could impair the magazine's ability to gather information.

The grand jury is investigating how the identity of a covert CIA operative was made public.

"That's possible, as a fallout from this decision," Time reporter Matthew Cooper told CNN's "Reliable Sources."

The situation that led Time Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine to hand over the information was "kind of an anomalous case, to say the least," Cooper said.

But he said it could nonetheless hinder Time correspondents' ability to persuade potential sources -- those seeking a guarantee of their identities would not be divulged -- to talk.

"This is one of the things I was concerned about when I argued for holding out, because I thought that there might be fallout like this," Cooper said, when told that two other Time correspondents had informed Pearlstine that sources told them they did not know if they could cooperate with the magazine's reporters in the future.

Cooper said reporters would work to find ways to shield their sources' identities from management, too. He predicted Time reporters "will take it upon themselves to put less in e-mail, you know, to put less in electronic form that the company owns and protect things better.

"Time will continue to rely on confidential sources," he said. "I think their wariness will ease with time -- at least I hope so."

Time, like CNN, is a component of the Time Warner media empire.

Cooper was a newly appointed White House correspondent for the news magazine in July 2003 when he began making calls about a New York Times opinion piece, written by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that questioned a piece of the intelligence cited to argue for the invasion of Iraq.

Wilson said he had been sent to Niger to determine whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from that country to make nuclear weapons. Claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction were the primary rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Wilson said he had reported back that he found the report unlikely. He added that he did not understand why the claim -- which the Bush administration later had to recant -- had nevertheless made its way into Bush's State of the Union speech.

Cooper called Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, the reporter said in editions of the magazine slated to hit newsstands Monday.

"I recall saying something like, 'I'm writing about Wilson,' before he interjected. 'Don't get too far out on Wilson,' he told me," Cooper said about his conversation with Rove.

Cooper said Rove then told him that Wilson's wife worked at the "agency" on "WMD," a reference to weapons of mass destruction, "and that she was responsible for sending Wilson."

Cooper said Sunday: "Before that conversation, I had never heard about anything about Joe Wilson's wife. After that conversation, I knew that she worked at the CIA."

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a federal crime, in some cases, to reveal the name of a covert U.S. operative.

Rove has said he did not identify Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, by name, and his lawyer has said Cooper's testimony "will not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or the grand jury."

In an e-mail to his boss at Time, Cooper wrote that his talk with Rove had been on "double super-secret background," a phrase that Cooper said Sunday had been intended to be a joke, inspired by the film "Animal House," in which a fraternity is placed on "double secret probation."

"'Super' was my own addition," said the reporter, who added that the conversation had, in fact, been on "deep background," which he understood to mean he could use the material, but could not quote it or say where he got it.

Cooper described his ultimately futile fight to keep his source's identity secret as "a weird two years," and said he thought Pearlstine had erred.

"I thought we were fighting for an important principle and I thought there would be a lot of fallout from handing over the notes," he said. "I think events have borne that out."

Cooper said he ultimately decided to testify before the grand jury only after he received permission from Rove releasing him of his obligation to maintain confidentiality.

Unlike Time, The New York Times has refused to buckle. Its correspondent Judith Miller -- who researched but never wrote a story onthe topic -- is finishing her second week in an Alexandria, Virginia, jail.

The newspaper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said: "The next occasion that Matt Cooper is in talking to a confidential source of his and promises ... not to betray a person's identity, I can imagine that source saying, 'Sure, I trust Matt Cooper, but do I trust Time magazine?'"

Cooper said the situations "aren't entirely analogous." Miller was under subpoena; her newspaper, unlike Time magazine, was not.

Critics have argued that the magazine should have accepted the possibility of fines and the jailing of its reporter rather than break Cooper's word.

Pearlstine, who has said the decision to hand over the materials was his alone, has argued that even reporters should comply with the law. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to intervene in the case.

The decision's impact has been felt outside the covers of Time. Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox newspapers, told "Reliable Sources" that Pearlstine's move had made his job more difficult because sources have been more reluctant to talk on background.

"I'm hearing that from my colleagues not only at the White House, but who cover other things, that the rules have changed in the past couple of weeks," he said.

Corporate responsibility is different from a journalist's responsibility, Herman said. "Is this a healthy thing for journalism? I'll let other people make their calls on that, but it raises some issues."

Scrutiny Grows Over Rove's Role in Leak Probe

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 17, 2005; 6:24 PM

White House senior adviser Karl Rove, after telling Time reporter Matthew Cooper in 2003 that the wife of an administration critic worked for the CIA, closed the conversation by noting "I've already said too much," Cooper said today in recounting his testimony before a federal grand jury.

While that comment appeared to indicate the sensitive nature of the conversation, which is now under scrutiny by a special prosecutor investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's name, Rove said nothing about Plame being a covert operative, according to Cooper. The conversation took place days after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, accused the White House of twisting evidence on whether Iraq had been seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Cooper's account, in the new issue of Time magazine, came as Republicans ratcheted up their defense of Rove and criticism of Democrats who have called for his ouster, even as the White House remained firmly in no-comment mode.

Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said Senate Democrats such as Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.) were "smearing Karl Rove" and urged them to apologize. Citing Cooper's article and others, Mehlman said: "Democrat partisans on the Hill have engaged in a smear campaign where they have attacked Karl Rove on the basis of information which actually vindicates and exonerates him, not implicates him."

On the same program, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, pointing to earlier administration denials that Rove was involved in the leaking of Plame's role in the CIA, said that was "a lie" and that Rove's "credibility is in tatters on a very important national security matter." He said Rove should resign and that, if he doesn't, President Bush should "be a man of his word" and fire Rove based on his pledge to dismiss any staffer found to be leaking information on the matter.

Cooper was questioned by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald Wednesday, agreeing to testify after obtaining a personal waiver of confidentiality from Rove through their attorneys. New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been in the Alexandria Detention Facility for nearly two weeks for refusing to testify in the case.

In the Time article, Cooper said Rove had cautioned him: "Don't get too far out on Wilson." He wrote that Rove told him that "Wilson's wife," who worked at the "agency" on "WMD issues," had arranged for Wilson's mission to Niger to investigate since-discredited allegations that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium for nuclear weapons. Of Rove's "said too much" comment, he wrote: "This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else."

The next day, Cooper said, when he asked Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whether Plame had arranged for her husband's African assignment, Libby replied: "Yeah, I've heard that too."

While Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has said Cooper called Rove to talk about welfare reform and switched topics during the conversation, Cooper said he initially left a message about welfare reform but when he reached the White House aide, they talked only about Wilson.

Fitzgerald asked several times whether Rove had indicated how he knew Plame worked at the CIA; Cooper said he did not. About one-third of the questions, he said, came from the grand jurors, a majority of whom are African American and predominantly women.

In a CNN interview, Cooper said Rove's tone "was disparaging toward Wilson." He also said he was "upset" with Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine's decision to turn over his e-mails after losing all legal appeals, which revealed Cooper's sources before he had agreed to testify.

"I really disagreed with it, because I thought we were fighting for an important principle and I thought there would be a lot of fallout from handing over the notes," Cooper said. "And I think events have borne that out."

Part of the Republican defense, as expressed by Mehlman on NBC, is that Rove didn't know Plame's name or that she was a covert operative. Mehlman cited a New York Times report that, in his words, "says Karl Rove was not Bob Novak's source, that Novak told Rove, not the other way around . . . This information at least came to Mr. Rove from journalists, not from a classified source."

But the article said that when syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who was the first to report Plame's name and CIA job in July 2003, mentioned her, Rove replied he had "heard that too," indicating Rove had already obtained the information elsewhere.

Mehlman criticized Wilson as being "wrong on numerous fronts" and for posing with his partially obscured wife for a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Wilson, on CBS's "Face the Nation," defended his record and challenged an assertion by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that "many people in Washington" knew Plame was employed by the CIA, meaning it would not have been a potential violation of federal law to reveal that. Wilson said people believed Plame was working as an energy consultant.

Repeating his call for Rove to be fired, Wilson said that "using the West Wing of the White House to be engaged in a smear campaign is an outrageous abuse of power."

Cooper cleared up one lingering mystery: his description in a memo of his talk with Rove as being on "double super secret background." He said this was "a play on a reference to the film 'Animal House,' in which John Belushi's wild Delta House fraternity is placed on 'double secret probation.'"

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Reporter: Top Cheney Aide Among Sources

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

The vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was a source along with the president's chief political adviser for a Time story that identified a CIA officer, the magazine reporter said Sunday, further countering White House claims that neither aide was involved in the leak.

In an effort to quell a chorus of calls to fire deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, Republicans said that Rove originally learned about Valerie Plame's identity from the news media. That exonerates Rove, the Republican Party chairman said, and Democrats should apologize.

But it is not clear that it was a journalist who first revealed the information to Rove.

A lawyer familiar with Rove's grand jury testimony said Sunday that Rove learned about the CIA officer either from the media or from someone in government who said the information came from a journalist. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because the federal investigation is continuing.

In a first-person account in the latest issue of Time magazine, reporter Matt Cooper wrote that during his grand jury appearance last Wednesday, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald "asked me several different ways if Rove had indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA." Cooper said Rove did not indicate how he had heard.

The White House's assurance in 2003 that Rove was not involved in the leak of the CIA officer's identity "was a lie," said John Podesta, White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration. He said Rove's credibility "is in shreds."

Until last week, the White House had insisted for nearly two years that Libby and Rove had no connection to the leak. Plame's husband is Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq at the start of the Persian Gulf War.

The White House refused last week to repeat its denials about Rove's involvement because of the disclosure that Rove told Cooper on July 11, 2003, that Wilson's wife apparently worked at the CIA and that she had authorized a trip he took to Africa in 2002.

The CIA sent Wilson to check out intelligence that the government of Niger had sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq for nuclear weapons. The chief rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 was that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Five days before Rove spoke with Cooper, Wilson had written a newspaper opinion piece suggesting the administration had twisted prewar intelligence, including a "highly doubtful" report that Saddam bought nuclear materials from Niger.

Libby and Rove were among the unidentified government officials who provided information for a Time story about Wilson, Cooper told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Cooper also said there may have been other government officials who were sources for his article. Time posted "A War on Wilson?" on its Web site on July 17, 2003.

The reporter refused to elaborate about other sources. He said that he has given all information to the grand jury in Washington where he was questioned for 2 1/2 hours on Wednesday.

In his first-person account, Cooper said Rove ended their telephone conversation with the words, "I've already said too much." Cooper speculated that Rove could have been "worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else."

"This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife," Cooper wrote of his phone call with Rove.

Cooper also had a conversation about Wilson and his wife with Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

According to Cooper, "Libby replied, 'Yeah, I've heard that too' or words to that effect" when Cooper asked if Libby had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger.

In 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the idea that Rove was involved in leaking information about Wilson's wife was "ridiculous."

The only concession by any Republican in the controversy came from Rep. Roy Blunt (news, bio, voting record) of Missouri, the third-ranking House Republican.

Asked about the White House's previous statements that Rove was not involved, Blunt told CBS' "Face the Nation" that spokesmen for the White House "need to be very thoughtful about what they say and be sure that their credibility is sustained."

At the time of the assurances, McClellan said he had checked directly with Rove.

"I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you," McClellan told the press in October 2003. McClellan said then that he had also checked with Libby and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams before saying they were not involved in the leak.

Blunt and Wilson clashed on CBS.

Blunt said many people in Washington understood that Plame worked at the CIA and went to its headquarters every day.

It "certainly wouldn't be the first time that the CIA might have been overzealous in sort of maintaining the kind of top-secret definition on things longer than they needed to," Blunt said.

Wilson pointed out that his wife "was covered according to the CIA, and the CIA made the referral" to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.

Wilson said friends and neighbors of the couple did not know that she worked for the CIA and that "they understood her to an energy analyst, an energy consultant."

"What I Told The Grand Jury"

Matthew Cooper reveals exactly what Karl Rove told him--and what the special counsel zeroed in on

By Matthew Cooper / Time

It was my first interview with the President, and I expected a simple "Hello" when I walked into the Oval Office last December. Instead, George W. Bush joked, "Cooper! I thought you'd be in jail by now." The leader of the free world, it seems, had been following my fight against a federal subpoena seeking my testimony in the case of the leaking of the name of a CIA officer. I thought it was funny and good-natured of the President, but the line reminded me that I was, very weirdly, in the Oval Office, out on bond from a prison sentence, awaiting appeal--in large part, for protecting the confidence of someone in the West Wing. "What can I say, Mr. President," I replied, smiling. "The wheels of justice grind slowly."

After a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the wheels of justice have stopped grinding--for me, anyway. Last week I testified before the federal grand jury investigating the leak. I did so after I received a specific last-minute waiver from one of my sources, Karl Rove, the President's top political adviser, releasing me from any claim of confidentiality he might have about our conversations in July 2003. Under federal law grand jurors and prosecutors are sworn to secrecy but those who testify, like me, are under no such obligation, which is why I'm able to tell you what happened in the grand jury room. Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel, told me that he would prefer that I not discuss the matter, and I suspect he said the same thing to White House officials who are now treating his request as a command and refusing to comment on the case. I don't know if I can illuminate this confounding investigation, but I can at least explain my small part in it. Like the blindfolded man and the elephant, all I know is what seems to be in front of me.

So here's what happened last Wednesday.

Before going into the grand jury room at 9:30 a.m., my lawyers and I met briefly with Fitzgerald, a couple of his attorneys and the lead FBI agent in the case. It was, to say the least, unsettling sitting there in the federal courthouse in Washington with the man who, for months, had tried to get me to testify or he would put me in jail. Fitzgerald counseled me that he wanted me to answer completely but didn't want to force any answers on me or have me act as if I remembered things more clearly than I did. "If I show you a picture of your kindergarten teacher and it really refreshes your memory, say so," he said. "If it doesn't, don't say yes just because I show you a photo of you and her sitting together."

Grand juries are in the business of handing out indictments, and their docility is infamous. A grand jury, the old maxim goes, will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it of them. But I didn't get that sense from this group of grand jurors. They somewhat reflected the demographics of the District of Columbia. The majority were African American and were disproportionately women. Most sat in black vinyl chairs with little desks in rows that were slightly elevated, as if it were a shabby classroom at a rundown college. A kindly African-American forewoman swore me in, and when I had to leave the room to consult with my attorneys, I asked her permission to be excused, not the prosecutor's, as is the custom. These grand jurors did not seem the types to passively indict a ham sandwich. I would say one-third of my 2 1/2 hours of testimony was spent answering their questions, not the prosecutor's, although he posed them on their behalf. I began to take notes but then was told I had to stop, so I'm reliant on memory.

For my part, I sat at the end of an L-shaped table next to one of the prosecutor's lawyers, who handed me various documents to review while an overhead projector displayed the documents on a screen near me. Virtually all the questions centered on the week of July 6, 2003. I was new to covering the Bush White House, having been the deputy Washington bureau chief for TIME. As it happens, that week was a big one at the White House. On that Sunday, the New York Times had published former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's now infamous Op-Ed describing his mission to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium to make nuclear weapons. Wilson said he had found no evidence of that and was confounded as to why the President would claim otherwise in his 2003 State of the Union address. As a freshly minted White House correspondent, I told the grand jury, I was all over that story by midweek, especially because it emerged as a likely candidate for TIME's cover the following Monday.

The grand jurors wanted to know what was on my mind, and I told them. The White House had done something it hardly ever does: it admitted a mistake. Shortly after Wilson's piece appeared, the White House said that the African uranium claim, while probably still true, should not have been in the President's State of the Union address because it hadn't been proved well enough. That was big news as the media flocked to find out who had vetted the President's speech. But at the same time, I was interested in an ancillary question about why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Wilson. It struck me, as I told the grand jury, as odd and unnecessary, especially after their saying the President's address should not have included the 16-word claim about Saddam and African uranium.

I told the grand jurors that I was curious about Wilson when I called Karl Rove on Friday, July 11. Rove was an obvious call for any White House correspondent, let alone someone trying to prove himself at a new beat. As I told the grand jury--which seemed very interested in my prior dealings with Rove--I don't think we had spoken more than a handful of times before that. I recalled that when I got the White House job a couple of weeks earlier, I left a message for him trying to introduce myself and announce my new posting.

As I told the grand jury--and we went over this in microscopic, excruciating detail, which may someday prove relevant--I recall calling Rove from my office at TIME magazine through the White House switchboard and being transferred to his office. I believe a woman answered the phone and said words to the effect that Rove wasn't there or was busy before going on vacation. But then, I recall, she said something like, "Hang on," and I was transferred to him. I recall saying something like, "I'm writing about Wilson," before he interjected. "Don't get too far out on Wilson," he told me. I started taking notes on my computer, and while an e-mail I sent moments after the call has been leaked, my notes have not been.

The grand jury asked about one of the more interesting lines in that e-mail, in which I refer to my conversation with Rove as being on "double super secret background," a line that's raised a few eyebrows ever since it leaked into the public domain. I told the grand jury that the phrase is not a journalistic term of art but a reference to the film Animal House, in which John Belushi's wild Delta House fraternity is placed on "double secret probation." ("Super" was my own addition.) In fact, I told the grand jury, Rove told me the conversation was on "deep background." I explained to the grand jury that I take the term to mean that I can use the material but not quote it, and that I must keep the identity of my source confidential.

Rove went on to say that Wilson had not been sent to Niger by the director of the CIA and, I believe from my subsequent e-mails--although it's not in my notes--that Rove added that Dick Cheney didn't send him either. Indeed, the next day the Vice President's chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, told me Cheney had not been responsible for Wilson's mission.

Much of my grand jury session revolved around my notes and my e-mails. (Those e-mails and notes were given to the special counsel when Time Inc., over my objections, complied with a court order.) Owing to my typing, some words were a jumble. For instance, I wrote "don't get too war out on Wilson," when I clearly meant "far out." There were some words in my notes that I could not account for--at one point they read, "...notable..." I didn't know if that was Rove's word or mine, and one grand juror asked if it might mean "not able," as in "Wilson was not an able person." I said that was possible, but I just didn't recall that. 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.

As for Wilson's wife, I told the grand jury I was certain that Rove never used her name and that, indeed, I did not learn her name until the following week, when I either saw it in Robert Novak's column or Googled her, I can't recall which. Rove did, however, clearly indicate that she worked at the "agency"--by that, I told the grand jury, I inferred that he obviously meant the CIA and not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency. Rove added that she worked on "WMD" (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.

Rove never once indicated to me that she had any kind of covert status. I told the grand jury something else about my conversation with Rove. Although it's not reflected in my notes or subsequent e-mails, I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the 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. I don't know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.

This was actually my second testimony for the special prosecutor. In August 2004, I gave limited testimony about my conversations with Scooter Libby. Libby had also given me a specific waiver, and I gave a deposition in the office of my attorney. I have never discussed that conversation until now. In that testimony, I recounted an on-the-record conversation with Libby that moved to background. On the record, he denied that Cheney knew about or played any role in the Wilson trip to Niger. On background, I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, "Yeah, I've heard that too," or words to that effect. Like Rove, Libby never used Valerie Plame's name or indicated that her status was covert, and he never told me that he had heard about Plame from other reporters, as some press accounts have indicated. Did Fitzgerald's questions give me a sense of where the investigation is heading? Perhaps. He asked me several different ways if Rove indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA. (He did not, I told the grand jury.) Maybe Fitzgerald is interested in whether Rove knew her CIA ties through a person or through a document.

A surprising line of questioning had to do with, of all things, welfare reform. The prosecutor asked if I had ever called Mr. Rove about the topic of welfare reform. Just the day before my grand jury testimony Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, had told journalists that when I telephoned Rove that July, it was about welfare reform and that I suddenly switched topics to the Wilson matter. After my grand jury appearance, I did go back and review my e-mails from that week, and it seems as if I was, at the beginning of the week, hoping to publish an article in TIME on lessons of the 1996 welfare-reform law, but the article got put aside, as often happens when news overtakes story plans. My welfare-reform story ran as a short item two months later, and I was asked about it extensively. To me this suggested that Rove may have testified that we had talked about welfare reform, and indeed earlier in the week, I may have left a message with his office asking if I could talk to him about welfare reform. But I can't find any record of talking about it with him on July 11, and I don't recall doing so.

So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the "agency" on "WMD"? Yes. When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don't know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me. At this point, I'm as curious as anyone else to see what Patrick Fitzgerald has.

Bush aide 'is source of CIA leak'

A US journalist says presidential aide Karl Rove was the first to tell him that the wife of a prominent administration critic was a CIA agent.
Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper said Mr Rove did not disclose Valerie Plame's name, but said the wife of a government critic worked for the CIA.

Mr Rove has denied being behind the leaking of her identity to the media.

A federal prosecutor is investigating whether any officials broke the law by revealing the name of a covert agent.

Weapons claim
Newspaper columnist Robert Novak first publicly revealed that Ms Plame was a covert CIA agent in July 2003, citing two administration officials.

That was shortly after Mr Wilson wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he accused President George W Bush's administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq.

Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes.
Matthew Cooper
Time magazine reporter

Mr Wilson says he travelled to Niger to investigate a claim that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material there, but found no evidence to prove it.

President Bush used the Niger claim as part of the justification for the 2003 invasion.

Novak wrote that an official had told him the trip was inspired by Ms Plame.

Mr Wilson alleges that his wife's name was deliberately leaked in a bid to undermine him.

Cheney aide

Writing in the current issue of Time after testifying in court last week, Cooper said: "So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No.

"Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD'? Yes."

This week, Newsweek magazine quoted Mr Rove's lawyer as saying his client did discuss Ms Plame with Cooper in an e-mail, but did not mention her name.

Cooper also wrote in Time that he discussed Mr Wilson and his wife with Lewis Libby, a senior aide to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

The journalist said he asked Mr Libby whether he had heard anything about Mr Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger, and Mr Libby replied: "Yeah, I've heard that too."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Time reporter Rove was first source on CIA agent

By Randall Mikkelsen | July 17, 2005 / Boston Globe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House political aide Karl Rove was the first person to tell a Time magazine reporter that the wife of a prominent critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy was a CIA agent, the reporter said in an article on Sunday.

Time correspondent Matthew Cooper said he told a grand jury last week that Rove told him the woman worked at the "agency," or CIA, on weapons of mass destruction issues, and ended the call by saying "I've already said too much."

He said Rove did not disclose the woman's name, Valerie Plame, but told him information would be declassified that would cast doubt on the credibility of her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had charged the Bush administration with exaggerating the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs in making its case for war.

"So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the 'agency' on 'WMD'? Yes," Cooper wrote in Time's current edition.

"When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don't know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me," Cooper wrote.

He also wrote that he was not certain what Rove meant by commenting he had already said too much.

Cooper testified on his conversations with Rove under court order before the grand jury to avoid going to jail, and had received a last-minute waiver from Rove allowing him to break a confidentiality pledge. New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to testify.

A federal prosecutor is investigating whether any government officials broke laws against exposing the identity of a covert CIA agent.

Columnist Robert Novak first revealed Plame's identity in July 2003, citing two administration officials, shortly after Wilson published an opinion piece in the New York Times that accused the administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq.

Wilson wrote that on a 2002 mission funded by the CIA he was unable to substantiate allegations that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear materials from Niger, as the White House asserted.

Cooper also reported on Plame's identity, attributing the information to Novak's column and administration officials, in a piece on Time's Web site shortly after Novak's column.

Wilson says the Bush administration leaked his wife's identity in retaliation for his article; Rove's lawyer said the aide had done nothing wrong and was not a target of the investigation. Other defenders have said Rove is the victim of a smear campaign.

President Bush has said he would fire anyone responsible for the leak, but said last week he would withhold judgment on Rove's role pending the investigation.

Cooper also wrote in Time that in previous testimony to the grand jury he had discussed Wilson and his wife with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. He said he asked Libby whether he had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger, and Libby replied, "Yeah, I've heard that too."

Rove had used the same language in discussing the issue with Novak, according to media reports.

Follow the Uranium

New York Times

"I am saying that if anyone was involved in that type of activity which I referred to, they would not be working here."
- Ron Ziegler, press secretary to Richard Nixon, defending the presidential aide Dwight Chapin on Oct. 18, 1972. Chapin was convicted in April 1974 of perjury in connection with his relationship to the political saboteur Donald Segretti.

"Any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president. They wouldn't be working here at the White House if they didn't have the president's confidence."
- Scott McClellan, press secretary to George W. Bush, defending Karl Rove on Tuesday.

WELL, of course, Karl Rove did it. He may not have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, with its high threshold of criminality for outing a covert agent, but there's no doubt he trashed Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. We know this not only because of Matt Cooper's e-mail, but also because of Mr. Rove's own history. Trashing is in his nature, and bad things happen, usually through under-the-radar whispers, to decent people (and their wives) who get in his way. In the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain's wife, Cindy, was rumored to be a drug addict (and Senator McCain was rumored to be mentally unstable). In the 1994 Texas governor's race, Ann Richards found herself rumored to be a lesbian. The implication that Mr. Wilson was a John Kerry-ish girlie man beholden to his wife for his meal ticket is of a thematic piece with previous mud splattered on Rove political adversaries. The difference is that this time Mr. Rove got caught.

Even so, we shouldn't get hung up on him - or on most of the other supposed leading figures in this scandal thus far. Not Matt Cooper or Judy Miller or the Wilsons or the bad guy everyone loves to hate, the former CNN star Robert Novak. This scandal is not about them in the end, any more than Watergate was about Dwight Chapin and Donald Segretti or Woodward and Bernstein. It is about the president of the United States. It is about a plot that was hatched at the top of the administration and in which everyone else, Mr. Rove included, are at most secondary players.

To see the main plot, you must sweep away the subplots, starting with the Cooper e-mail. It has been brandished as a smoking gun by Bush bashers and as exculpatory evidence by Bush backers (Mr. Rove, you see, was just trying to ensure that Time had its facts straight). But no one knows what this e-mail means unless it's set against the avalanche of other evidence, most of it secret, including what Mr. Rove said in three appearances before the grand jury. Therein lies the rub, or at least whatever case might be made for perjury.

Another bogus subplot, long popular on the left, has it that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, gave Mr. Novak a free pass out of ideological comradeship. But Mr. Fitzgerald, both young (44) and ambitious, has no record of Starr- or Ashcroft-style partisanship (his contempt for the press notwithstanding) or known proclivity for committing career suicide. What's most likely is that Mr. Novak, more of a common coward than the prince of darkness he fashions himself to be, found a way to spill some beans and avoid Judy Miller's fate. That the investigation has dragged on so long anyway is another indication of the expanded reach of the prosecutorial web.

Apparently this is finally beginning to dawn on Mr. Bush's fiercest defenders and on Mr. Bush himself. Hence, last week's erection of the stonewall manned by the almost poignantly clownish Mr. McClellan, who abruptly rendered inoperative his previous statements that any suspicions about Mr. Rove are "totally ridiculous." The morning after Mr. McClellan went mano a mano with his tormentors in the White House press room - "We've secretly replaced the White House press corps with actual reporters," observed Jon Stewart - the ardently pro-Bush New York Post ran only five paragraphs of a wire-service story on Page 12. That conspicuous burial of what was front-page news beyond Murdochland speaks loudly about the rising anxiety on the right. Since then, White House surrogates have been desperately babbling talking points attacking Joseph Wilson as a partisan and a liar.

These attacks, too, are red herrings. Let me reiterate: This case is not about Joseph Wilson. He is, in Alfred Hitchcock's parlance, a MacGuffin, which, to quote the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a particular event, object, factor, etc., initially presented as being of great significance to the story, but often having little actual importance for the plot as it develops." Mr. Wilson, his mission to Niger to check out Saddam's supposed attempts to secure uranium that might be used in nuclear weapons and even his wife's outing have as much to do with the real story here as Janet Leigh's theft of office cash has to do with the mayhem that ensues at the Bates Motel in "Psycho."

This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair.

So put aside Mr. Wilson's February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was "actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time." The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on "Meet the Press," in three speeches in August and on "Meet the Press" yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word "uranium" was thrown into the mix.

By September the president was bandying about the u-word too at the United Nations and elsewhere, speaking of how Saddam needed only a softball-size helping of uranium to wreak Armageddon on America. But hardly had Mr. Bush done so than, offstage, out of view of us civilian spectators, the whole premise of this propaganda campaign was being challenged by forces with more official weight than Joseph Wilson. In October, the National Intelligence Estimate, distributed to Congress as it deliberated authorizing war, included the State Department's caveat that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa," made public in a British dossier, were "highly dubious." A C.I.A. assessment, sent to the White House that month, determined that "the evidence is weak" and "the Africa story is overblown."

AS if this weren't enough, a State Department intelligence analyst questioned the legitimacy of some mysterious documents that had surfaced in Italy that fall and were supposed proof of the Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. In fact, they were blatant forgeries. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said as much publicly in the days just before "shock and awe," his announcement made none of the three evening newscasts. The administration's apocalyptic uranium rhetoric, sprinkled with mushroom clouds, had been hammered incessantly for more than five months by then - not merely in the State of the Union address - and could not be dislodged. As scenarios go, this one was about as subtle as "Independence Day" and just as unstoppable a crowd-pleaser.

Once we were locked into the war, and no W.M.D.'s could be found, the original plot line was dropped with an alacrity that recalled the "Never mind!" with which Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to end her misinformed Weekend Update commentaries on "Saturday Night Live." The administration began its dog-ate-my-homework cover-up, asserting that the various warning signs about the uranium claims were lost "in the bowels" of the bureaucracy or that it was all the C.I.A.'s fault or that it didn't matter anyway, because there were new, retroactive rationales to justify the war. But the administration knows how guilty it is. That's why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

Next to White House courtiers of their rank, Mr. Wilson is at most a Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. The brief against the administration's drumbeat for war would be just as damning if he'd never gone to Africa. But by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora's box it can't slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.

In Rove case, one outing got another

- Vicki Haddock, Insight Staff Writer
Sunday, July 17, 2005

Renegade ex-CIA agent Philip Agee spent years ripping the masks off fellow secret spies -- hundreds of them.

Troubled by U.S. covert activities in Latin America, in the 1970s he wrote an expose and launched the bimonthly "Covert Action Information Bulletin, " a Who's Who of CIA operatives with detailed biographies. By Agee's estimate, the Agency had 5,000 officers experienced in clandestine operations, and he gleefully predicted "it should be possible to identify almost all of those who have worked under diplomatic cover."

The CIA was flabbergasted to discover no law against this. But it had a powerful friend in the next U.S. vice president, a former CIA director. George H. W. Bush made it his mission to get legislation making it a felony to out a covert agent. "I don't care how long I live, I will never forgive Philip Agee and those like him who wantonly sacrificed the lives of intelligence officers, " he said.

Even wife Barbara Bush, in her autobiography, said Agee's "traitorous" book blew the cover of the Athens CIA station chief, Richard Welch, causing his assassination (a charge stricken after Agee sued for libel, claiming Welch was outed by Counter Spy Magazine.)

So in 1982 came the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Its drafters describe it as difficult to violate -- a "dart gun" law nicknamed the "Get Agee Act." (For his part, Agee quit his publication, hopscotched Europe, and opened a Cuba tourism site on the Internet.) In 23 years, the law has ensnared one person -- a former CIA clerk who disclosed names of U.S. agents to a boyfriend in Ghana.

It's a safe bet the Bushes never envisioned the law they championed would one day threaten their son's political consigliere -- the man President George W. Bush refers to as "Turd Blossom" but the public knows as Karl Rove.

A federal grand jury continues probing whether anyone broke the law by leaking, to discredit Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent. Despite earlier White House denials, an e-mail from Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper to his bureau chief suggests that on July 11, 2003, Rove outed Valerie Plame Wilson. Here's the key excerpt, which Cooper said Rove gave him on super secret background: "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues who authorized the trip." The trip refers to Wilson's journey to Niger to see if Iraq was trying to purchase yellowcake uranium.

The testimony of others remains secret, so our looking glass is opaque. Legal analysts, including those who drafted the law, said the e-mail isn't enough to convict Rove.

Among his defenses:

Rove didn't say her name. The e-mail doesn't make that clear, although Rove himself earlier told reporters that he didn't know her name and didn't name her. If this sound like Rove is lying, that would depend on what your definition of "is" is. By calling her "Wilsons's wife," he identified her.

Valerie Plame wasn't really under cover. But the CIA didn't hesitate to forward the leak allegation to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. She operated a front company based in Boston and sometimes traveled overseas posing as a private energy analyst, yet she also had a desk at CIA's Langley headquarters. Some fellow agents who knew her as Val P. in training recall her proficiency with foreign languages and an AK-47, but she said her work as a spy was unknown to friends and neighbors.

Rove didn't know she was a covert agent and thus had no intent to out her. This may be the key. Note that Cooper's e-mail quotes Rove saying she "apparently" works for the agency. Prosecutors would have to prove that Rove knew her status. It's not even clear where Rove learned about her -- from classified material or from another reporter.

So where does this leave us? What evidence lies in eight blank pages contained in an earlier ruling in the case, a ruling in which judges decided the alleged crime was sufficiently serious to jail reporters who refused to testify about it?

It's starting to look like Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could be pursuing something more than a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Political inquiries often lead to wrongs that occurred after the impetus -- perjury, say, or obstruction of justice.

Is Rove in the clear for now? Stay tuned.

E-mail Vicki Haddock at

Page B - 3

©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Rove affair: So is it `frog-march' time yet?

Clarence Page

July 17, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Now we know why it is called "spin." Your head could spin around from all of the information and disinformation swirling around disclosures that Karl Rove did, indeed, leak the identity of a CIA agent to at least one reporter.

As I boil it all down, there are three big questions:

1. Did Rove commit a crime?

2. Criminal or not, did he do anything morally or ethically wrong?

3. Who lied about it?

Background: Back in July 2003, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed that embarrassed the White House into a big concession: Assertions about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Niger should not have been included in President Bush's State of the Union address. Wilson knew because he had been sent to Niger to investigate the allegation.

A week after his op-ed appeared, columnist Robert Novak identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, by name as the "CIA operative" behind Wilson's mission.

A week after that, MSNBC's Chris Matthews quoted Rove as saying "Wilson's wife is fair game."

The next month, Wilson commented sarcastically that he would not mind seeing "Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs."

Rove's idea apparently was to distance the Bush White House from Wilson's Niger mission. In fact, it turns out, Plame was not just any old operative but an agent, which means the leak of her identity by a government official could violate federal law, besides jeopardizing her job and life.

As it turned out, the CIA did send Wilson to Niger in response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office about an intelligence report that referred to the alleged Niger sale. Wilson's wife, an expert on weapons of mass destruction, lacked the authority to send her husband, but she did suggest him, because he was a former ambassador to the region.

Question 1: Did Rove commit a crime?

Hardly anyone but a partisan for one side or the other would even try to answer that question with a straight "yes" or "no," which has not stopped a lot of partisans from doing just that on talk shows.

The real answer will come clear when Patrick Fitzgerald, the tough special prosecutor named by the Justice Department at the urging of the White House, the CIA and Congress, returns some indictments or, at least, a final report. Fitzgerald would have to show that Rove knowingly revealed Plame's identity as a CIA agent, breaking the law and possibly endangering her life.

But, is "Bush's brain" about to be fired, as leading Democrats have demanded? Not likely, unless he is convicted. Indictment would bring a leave of absence. There has probably been no president as closely attached to a political adviser since President William McKinley and his key adviser, Mark Hanna, Rove's role model.

If anyone will squeeze every bit of evidence out of this investigation, it is Fitzgerald. He urged jail time, not house arrest, for New York Times reporter Judith Miller after she refused to say who revealed Plame's identity to her for a story Miller never wrote.

I, for one, was appalled by Fitzgerald's extreme pursuit of Miller's source, especially since she never wrote a story. But no one can accuse the special prosecutor of trying to suck up to the press.

Question 2: Did Rove do anything morally or ethically wrong?

Morals? Ethics? Hardball political operatives say "Ha." In their world, the meaning of such words is as slippery as the greasy ground beneath their feet. After all, "Wilson's wife is fair game."

Question 3: Who's lying?

President Bush has wisely clammed up, saying it wouldn't be proper to comment on an ongoing investigation. But more than once in October 2003 his spokesman Scott McClellan called any involvement by Rove in the leak "a ridiculous suggestion." After speaking with Rove and other individuals under suspicion in the White House, McClellan said, "those individuals assured me they were not involved in this."

After Rove's lawyer confirmed his leak to Time magazine, McClellan clammed up, except to come up with endless variations on "no comment" as White House reporters bombarded him with questions.

Perhaps he will use President Richard Nixon's press secretary, Ron Ziegler's, memorable line from a Watergate-era briefing: "This is the operative statement. The old statements are inoperative."

That reminds us of what the real Rove scandal might be: This administration's willful pattern of shutting up any dissenting voices like Wilson's and shutting out any disagreeable facts, like the ones Wilson presented to the CIA, in the administration's headstrong run-up to war with Iraq.

That's not an indictable offense, as far as I can tell, but it's worth investigating. It's worth looking back at how our country got into Iraq, now that we're trying to find a way out.



Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

Why The Leak Probe Matters

For all the complexities of the Valerie Plame case, this story is about how easy it was to get into Iraq, and how hard it will be to get out.

By Jonathan Alter

July 25 issue - Like a lot of President Bush's critics, I supported the Iraq war at first. Because of the evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction laid out by Colin Powell, I agreed that we needed to disarm Saddam Hussein. I even think it's possible that 25 years from now, historians will conclude that the Iraq war helped accelerate the modernizing of the Middle East, even if it doesn't fully democratize it.

But if that happens, Bush might not get as much credit as he hopes, and not just because most historians, as Richard Nixon liked to say, are liberals. Bush may look bad because his leadership on Iraq has been a fiasco. He didn't plan for it: the early decisions that allowed the insurgency to get going were breathtakingly incompetent. He didn't pay for it: Bush is the first president in history to cut taxes during a war, this one now costing nearly $1 billion a week. And most important of all, he didn't tell the American people the truth about it: taking a nation to war is the most solemn duty of a president, and he'd better make certain there's no alternative and no doubt about the evidence.

Why do I mention this now? Because for all of the complexities of the Valerie Plame case, for all the questions raised about the future of investigative journalism and the fate of the most influential aide to an American president since Louis Howe served Franklin D. Roosevelt 70 years ago, this story is fundamentally about how easy it was to get into Iraq and how hard it will be to get out.

We got in because we "cooked" the intelligence, then hyped it. That's why the "Downing Street Memo" is not a smoking gun but a big "duh." For two years we've known that senior White House officials were determined to, in the words of the British intelligence memo, "fix" the intelligence to suit their policy decisions. When someone crossed them, they would "fix" him, too, as career ambassador Joseph Wilson found when he came back from Africa with a report that threw cold water on the story that Saddam Hussein sought yellowcake uranium from Niger.

Was Plame "fair game," as Karl Rove told Chris Matthews? George H.W. Bush didn't think so. Even after Wilson embarrassed the president publicly, Bush Sr. wrote Wilson—whom he had appointed to various ambassadorial posts—to congratulate him for his service and sympathize with him over the outing of his wife. The old man was head of the CIA in the 1970s and knows the consequences of blowing the identities of covert operatives.

But does his son? A real leader wouldn't hide behind Clintonian legalisms like "I don't want to prejudge." Even if the disclosure was unintentional and no law was broken, Rove's confirmed conduct—talking casually to two reporters without security clearances about a CIA operative—was dangerous and wrong. As GOP congressman turned talk-show host Joe Scarborough puts it, if someone in his old congressional office did what Rove unquestionably did, that someone would have been promptly fired, just as the president promised in this case. Scarborough, no longer obligated to toe the pathetic Republican Party line, says it's totally irrelevant if Joe Wilson is a preening partisan who misled investigators about the role his wife played in recommending his Niger trip. The frantic efforts of the GOP attack machine to change the subject to Wilson shows how scared Republicans are that the master of their universe will be held accountable for Rove's destructive carelessness.

To get an idea of how destructive, I talked to Melissa Mahle, a former CIA covert operative turned author whose career parallels Plame's. She explained what happens when someone's cover is blown. It isn't pretty, especially when, like Plame, you have been under "nonofficial cover" (working for a phony front company or nonprofit), which is more sensitive than "official cover" (pretending to work for another government agency). The GOP's spinners are making it seem that because Plame had a desk job in Langley at the time she was outed, she wasn't truly undercover. As Mahle says, that reflects a total ignorance about the way the CIA works. Being outed doesn't just waste millions of taxpayer dollars; it compromises hundreds of other people in the field you may have worked with in the past.

If Bush isn't a hypocrite on national security, he needs, at a minimum, to yank Rove's security clearance. "Whether you do it [discuss the identity of CIA operatives] intentionally or unintentionally, you have not met the requirements of that security clearance," Mahle told me.

The bigger question is what this scandal does to the CIA's ability to develop essential "humint" (human intelligence). Here's where the Iraq war comes in again. The sooner we beef up our intelligence, the sooner we crack the insurgency and get to bring our troops home. What does it say to the people doing the painstaking work of building those spy networks when the identity of one of their own becomes just another weapon in the partisan wars of Washington? For a smart guy, Karl Rove was awfully stupid.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Rove at War

He rose using tactics his foes are turning against him. But never bet against Karl Rove.

By Howard Fineman
Updated: 2:14 a.m. ET July 17, 2005

July 25 issue - Karl Rove is a hunter. His favorite quarry in Texas is quail; in Washington, it's foes of George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rove was focused intently, with a touch of anger, on his prey. It was Monday, July 7, 2003, the day after Joe Wilson, a veteran diplomat, had launched a damaging public assault on a central administration rationale for the war in Iraq: that Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. In a New York Times op-ed piece and a companion appearance on "Meet the Press," Wilson said he had been dispatched to the African country in 2002 by the CIA, at the behest of Cheney, to check out the yellowcake claim—and had found it flimsy at best.

Now here, in the gun sight of Rove, was a bird in flight. Until then, Wilson had been obscured from view, peddling his story and his doubts—but not his own name—to selected reporters, officials and Hill staffers. The resulting stories had attracted the administration's attention. In May, the State Department's intelligence unit had prepared a secret memorandum about the provenance of Wilson's journey and its classified results—including the curious fact that Wilson's wife, a CIA agent then working on weapons of mass destruction issues, had been involved in planning the mission, and had even suggested that her husband undertake it. Still, there had been no cause to criticize Wilson—let alone mention his wife.

But then Wilson went public. Some prominent administration officials scurried for cover. Traveling in Africa, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had long harbored doubts, disowned the "sixteen words" about Niger that had ended up in Bush's prewar State of the Union speech. So did CIA Director George Tenet, who said they shouldn't have been in the text. But Cheney—who tended never to give an inch on any topic—held firm. And so, therefore, did Rove, who sometimes referred to the vice president as "Leadership." Rove took foreign-policy cues from the pro-war coterie that surrounded the vice president, and was personally and operationally close to Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Soon enough, Rove had drawn a bead on Wilson. The diplomat was a Democrat who had worked on national-security issues in the Clinton administration; he had donated money to Al Gore in 2000. Now, Rove had heard, he was friendly with Sen. John Kerry. Wilson was trying to drag Cheney into the story for partisan reasons—to caricature him as the dark, secret taskmaster of the war. Cheney hadn't dispatched Wilson; the vice president hadn't had anything directly to do with it.

In the World According to Karl Rove, you take the offensive, and stay there. You create a narrative that glosses over complex, mitigating facts to divide the world into friends and enemies, light and darkness, good and bad, Bush versus Saddam. You are loyal to a fault to your friends, merciless to your enemies. You keep your candidate's public rhetoric sunny and uplifting, finding others to do the attacking. You study the details, and learn more about your foes than they know about themselves. You use the jujitsu of media flow to flip the energy of your enemies against them. The Boss never discusses political mechanics in public. But in fact everything is political—and everyone is fair game.

Which now includes Rove. In a familiar Washington twist of fate, Rove's theory of politics is being turned against him—and he is being forced to deploy the Republican machine, which he built on Bush's behalf, for a more personal task: his own defense. A federal prosecutor is now coming to the climax of an investigation into whether any administration official committed a crime by disclosing the identity of a CIA agent—Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame—to reporters. The prosecutor may also be looking at whether anyone lied to the grand jury about the matter—the classic Washington crime of a cover-up. Democrats are in full cry, demanding that Rove be hauled before congressional-committee hearings, stripped of his security clearance, fired outright—or all three.

Beyond the legal drama, the story of the White House's response to the Wilson trip is offering the country that rarest of opportunities in the Age of Bush II: a glimpse of the inner workings of a White House under the management of Karl Rove, the most influential presidential adviser in memory. And while liberals who have long viewed Rove with fear and loathing are gleeful at his current political plight, Rove's own legions are rallying—which means, interestingly, that the harsh culture now pummeling him may in fact save him as Bush's Red soldiers take the field.

Rove's lawyer says that there has been no wrongdoing, and that the prosecutor has told him that Rove is not a "target" of the probe. But this isn't just about the Facts, it's about what Rove's foes regard as a higher Truth: that he is a one-man epicenter of a narrative of Evil. The Manichaean politics that Rove had perfected over three decades now threaten to engulf him, or at least render him as something less than what he has been to Bush: the mastermind of Republican hegemony. "He's in a tough spot, but he is the survivor's survivor," says Frank Luntz, a political consultant for many GOP candidates. Maybe, but Rove is not in control of his own story. For now the author in charge is Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, who seems oblivious to politics altogether.

It's unlikely that any White House officials considered that they were doing anything illegal in going after Joe Wilson. Indeed, the line between national security and politics had long since been all but erased by the Bush administration. In the months after 9/11, the Republican National Committee, a part of Rove's empire, had sent out a fund-raising letter that showed the president aboard Air Force One in the hours after the attack. Democrats howled, but that was the Bush Rove was selling in the re-election campaign: commander in chief. Now Wilson was getting in the way of that glorious story, essentially accusing the administration of having blundered or lied the country into war.

How do you publicly counter a guy like that? As "senior adviser," Rove would be involved in finding out. Technically, Rove was in charge of politics, not "communications." But, as he saw it, the two were one and the same—and he used his heavyweight status to push the message machine run by his Texas protegé and friend, Dan Bartlett. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was sent out to trash the Wilson op-ed. "Zero, nada, nothing new here," he said. Then, on a long Bush trip to Africa, Fleischer and Bartlett prompted clusters of reporters to look into the bureaucratic origins of the Wilson trip. How did the spin doctors know to cast that lure? One possible explanation: some aides may have read the State Department intel memo, which Powell had brought with him aboard Air Force One.

Meanwhile, in transatlantic secure phone calls, the message machinery focused on a crucial topic: who should carry the freight on the following Sunday's talk shows? The message: protect Cheney by explaining that he had had nothing to do with sending Wilson to Niger, and dismiss the yellowcake issue. Powell was ruled out. He wasn't a team player, as he had proved by his dismissive comments about the "sixteen words." Donald Rumsfeld was pressed into duty, as was Condi Rice, the ultimate good soldier. She was on the Africa trip with the president, though, and wouldn't be getting back until Saturday night. To allow her to prepare on the long flight home to D.C., White House officials assembled a briefing book, which they faxed to the Bush entourage in Africa. The book was primarily prepared by her National Security Council staff. It contained classified information—perhaps including all or part of the memo from State. The entire binder was labeled top secret.

Back in Washington, busying himself mainly with the task of sketching the outlines of Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, Rove—patient bird hunter that he is—waited in the duck blind of his West Wing office. His first chance to take a shot arrived on Wednesday, July 9, when he spoke to a journalist with whom he had done business since the 1970s—Bob Novak. In 1992, in fact, Rove had been banished from Bush I's re-election campaign after he was fingered (wrongly, both men insisted) as a source for a Novak column about Republican unrest in Texas. What did Rove make of the story, which Novak had gotten from what he later called a person who was "no partisan gunslinger," that Wilson had been sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame?

Rove's reply is in dispute. According to a later column written by Novak, Rove said, "Oh, you know about it." Rove's version, made public by a source close to him, is less solid: "I heard that, too." Whatever the exact words were, they were good enough to give Novak the confirmation he thought he needed. Citing two senior administration officials, he wrote a piece—with Wilson's wife's name—for release nationwide the next Monday.

Rove's next and last shot came in a brief, end-of-the-week call from Matt Cooper of Time magazine. As NEWSWEEK has reported, Cooper later wrote an e-mail to his bureau chief, saying that Rove had tried to wave him off the Wilson story—and mentioned Wilson's wife in the process: "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on WMD issues who authorized the trip," Cooper's e-mail read. Cooper would write about the matter online the following week, after the Novak article appeared. (Rove did not initially discuss the conversation with Cooper in his first interview with the FBI, a source close to Rove, who declined to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, told NEWSWEEK. But Rove later testified about it, the source said.) That weekend, the talk-show soldiers did their duty. Rumsfeld drew the fire on other issues; Condi did her best to distance the vice president from the Wilson trip.

Missions accomplished. Except for a few little details. Under a 1982 law, it's a felony to intentionally disclose the name of a "covered" agent with the intent to harm national security. Under another, older statute, it could also be a felony to willfully disclose information from a classified document—which the State Department memo and, apparently, the Condi briefing book were. There is no indication that Rove saw the briefing book (Rumsfeld didn't get one) or that anyone disclosed classified information. But no one in the administration seems to have noticed the irony—or the legal danger—in assembling a top secret briefing book as guidance for the Sunday talk shows. Exactly what papers with what classifications were floating around on Air Force One? Who, if anyone, was dipping into them for info about the Wilson trip?

And if Rove knew Plame's identity, as Novak says, how did Rove learn it? A source close to Rove has said Rove never saw the State memo. The same source told NEWSWEEK last week that Rove "doesn't remember" where he heard the crucial information about Wilson's wife. But, the source said, Rove is "pretty sure he heard it directly or indirectly from a media source." The source close to Rove later acknowledged that Rove had been questioned by investigators about conversations he may have had with Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. Rove couldn't recall any specific exchange with Libby about Wilson's wife, the source said. A spokeswoman for the vice president's office said Libby would have no comment. Fitzgerald declined to comment.

If the polarities were reversed—if this were a Democratic White House—these are the kinds of breach-of-security questions for which Rove would be demanding swift answers. Which party was for protecting the shadow warriors in the war on terror? Rove —would want to know.

So would Richard Nixon, Rove's first political hero. For boys of a certain place and time—including the Salt Lake City of the 1950s and '60s—Nixon was a haunted hero, a permanently embattled, commie-fighting Republican who had no use for weak-kneed swells and who stood for decency and Main Street values. As a boy, Rove—like many another conservative kid of the baby boom—was initially drawn toward politics by Nixon, and by the apocalyptic, anti-communist message of the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover. WAKE UP, AMERICA! proclaimed a sign above Rove's boyhood bed.

Rove's father was an oil geologist, and it was perhaps from him that Rove got both his sense of history and his almost manic love of detail. You measured time in eons, but you found evidence with a magnifying glass. One of five kids, a voracious reader with a vaulting sense of ambition, Rove wanted to be president—or at least be able to debate like one. Nixon and Jack Kennedy had squared off dramatically in 1960. Karl was only 9 but eventually became a mainstay of the debate team, carrying a box full of notecards of "research." To intimidate his foes, Rove would arrive with what looked like thousands of notecards, most of which were blank. The real ones were carefully chosen, and Rove knew how to use them.

Like an entire generation of baby-boom conservatives, Rove's political boot camp was the College Republicans, which, in his case, was something of a misnomer, since he dropped out of the University of Utah to join them in the late '60s. They were under the aegis of the Nixon White House, a tie that may have augmented the usual adolescent urge to dabble in dirty tricks. Rove did his share—stealing campaign stationery and inviting the world to a Democratic beer bash was one—but the CRs were important to him for other reasons. They gave him a sense of order and belonging, which he may well have needed. His dad walked out in 1969; in 1970, he learned that he and a brother had been fathered by someone other than the man he had called Dad. (Eleven years later, his mother committed suicide.)

The CRS led rove to understand the power of ideas in politics—and to his fateful first meeting with the man who would become his partner in public life, George W. Bush. Ostensibly pragmatic Nixonites, the CRs' real heroes were Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, as Rove realized when his bid to lead the group ran into a wall of conservative opposition. He ultimately prevailed, thanks to an administrative ruling by George H.W. Bush, who chaired the adult Republican National Committee. The two became friends. On Thanksgiving in 1973, Bush, through an aide, asked Rove to take the family car keys to Union Station and give them to his son, who was arriving from his first semester at Harvard Business School. Rove recalls the scene in a kind of gauzy cinematic slow-mo: "He was wearing jeans, and a bomber jacket, and he had an aura of confidence and charisma," Rove once told NEWSWEEK. Rove's dreams of becoming president ended there—but that is also probably where George W. Bush's career began.

In retrospect, the road from there to here is as straight as a West Texas highway. Rove and Bush were on the move in Texas in the mid-'70s, Bush to the oil business, Rove to consulting. In the early years, Rove made more money than Bush by getting involved in the then new business of direct mail. Combining his geeky loves—technology, granular political detail and hard-hitting rhetoric —he learned to fashion carefully targeted, incendiary fund-raising letters that could (and did) raise millions. Direct mail remains the key to understanding Rove's approach to politics: minutely targeted, upbeat when possible, apocalyptic as needed. (The mailbag Manichaeanism can get ugly, as it did in New York recently, where Rove crudely accused post-9/11 liberals of merely wanting to "prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.")

It didn't take Rove long in Texas to conclude that the state's tectonic plates were shifting in a Republican direction. The key was to combine the pro-business money of corporate Houston and Dallas with the conservative values—and the Bible-belt traditionalism—of rural (and, up to that point, Democratic) small-town Texas. How? By the early 1990s, Rove had his plan and his man: George W. Bush, whose incandescent personality and "compassionate conservatism" covered both flanks. Rove made it Bush's business to get right with the religious right, but not so much on theology as good works. The idea was to replace government-run welfare and education with church-based charity, saving money and souls at the same time, and not to run as a foe of government per se but as a "reformer" of it.

On the way to Austin and then to Washington, Bush and Rove developed a relationship unlike any other in modern politics. They were brothers, but not quite; master and servant, but not quite; king and court jester, but not quite—and tied together by what looks like an unshakable bond of mutual loyalty. Outsiders thought it might be tested after Bush was clobbered in the 2000 New Hampshire primary by John McCain. Rove had badly underestimated the senator there. In similar situations, handlers have offered to resign. Asked by NEWSWEEK if he would do so, Rove exploded in a mix of derision, pity and anger. "I can't believe you're asking that!" he shouted. "Of course not!"

Later that week, on a campaign bus rolling through South Carolina, Bush and Rove—now a comedy act—pretended to replay their own responses on election night, rolling their eyes and collapsing "drunk" in their bus seats. "We've lost by twenty damn points!" Rove said, as if talking to Bush on the phone. "Dammit, Karl, you've ruined everything!" Bush yelled back. The good ole boys onboard didn't know what to make of the scene. But allies elsewhere in upstate South Carolina knew what to do. They employed every nasty accusation and rumor in the book to discredit and defeat McCain.

And Bush and Rove are still together. As news spread of Rove's chats with Novak and Cooper, Democrats turned up the heat. But while the president did not defend his buddy in so many words—saying that he would wait for the Fitzgerald probe to end—Bush kept Rove by his side in photo ops in and around the White House. On a Bush trip to North Carolina, Rove clowned in his manic way with reporters—behavior of the kind he tends to display when he feels under pressure.

At the same time, the GOP machine he had built began clanking into gear. Rove has friends all over town, and the country—people he's put in office and, with ruthless efficiency, into key government and lobbying jobs. But they were slow to react, perhaps in part because the apparatus is built to attack more than defend. Last Monday, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, was seared to a crisp during his press briefing. Only the following day did GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman—whose entire career is a Rove creation—respond. Some of the party talking points had a vaguely Clintonesque feel to them: that Rove was merely trying to help the reporters, that he never actually mentioned Valerie Plame's name, that he didn't call the reporters, they had called him. The Democrats, eager to seize the rare piece of high ground on a national-security issue, kept up the fire. But since they have no subpoena power on the Hill—Rove's GOP is in charge there—they can't call him to testify. And the louder the Democrats screamed, the easier it was for Rove and his allies to dismiss the whole affair as just another Red-Blue partisan smackdown.

As for Rove, friends say that he was shaken by the speed with which the Wilson story moved—and in a direction he didn't expect. He's used to being in control. But now all Rove can do is mark time until someone else—Patrick Fitzgerald—says what comes next. After his re-election victory last November, Bush called Rove the "Architect." Now the hunter has to wait with everyone else to see if he has become the hunted.

With Michael Isikoff, Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Bush, colleagues lose trust in Plame game

Ellis Henican

July 17, 2005

The war in Iraq grinds depressingly on, with few signs of progress and no end in sight.

The president's plea to privatize Social Security is obviously going nowhere.

And George W. Bush's chief political guru, the very architect of his successful re-election campaign, is looking increasingly like a felon, a liar or both.

Is it any wonder a growing trust gap has begun to separate America from its suddenly rattled second-term president?

Bush doesn't seem ready to face it head-on.

That's the vivid impression from the White House pool report filed by one correspondent Friday afternoon: "On the tarmac in North Carolina, your pool was able to walk briefly alongside the president and ask if he still had faith in Karl Rove. The question was met with a stare straight ahead, silence and a quick brush-off motion of Bush's left hand, as if the president were swatting away an insect."

Well, buzz-buzz-buzz! It'll take more than a little swat to make this buzzing go away!

Pick a poll, any poll. You'll find another swarm of evidence that more and more people are doubting Bush, especially his honesty and truthfulness.

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey - no bastion of left-wing negativism for sure - asked if people found Bush "honest and straightforward." Only 41 percent said yes, down 9 points since January. At the same time, those who said they doubt the president's truthfulness climbed to 45 percent from 36 percent.

This is a big red flag for any president, especially this one, whose personal connection to voters has been his secret weapon when his policies have gone awry.

"No, he hasn't caught Osama," countless Americans have grumbled over the past three years and 10 months. "But he seems like a nice, regular guy."

If that nice cushion is disappearing, Bush could be in real trouble soon.

Not so incidentally, this trust gap has begun to grow at the same time as Iraq has become peoples' No. 1 concern. In that NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent cited the war, higher even than the 34 percent who called jobs their first concern.

Now, add Karl Rove to the list of threats.

The facts are still fluid. But as the week wound to a close, it was looking increasingly certain that the president's political adviser and deputy chief of staff played at least some significant role in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

And not only that: He'd done it for the lowest and most selfish motive imaginable - to extract political revenge against Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his public comments questioning the basis for the war in Iraq.

What could be uglier than that? What could be a worse violation of public trust?

Rove's defenses have gotten wobblier by the day. He's gone from he-didn't-do-it to the-media-did-it to he-doesn't-remember-exactly.

And Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has been no help at all, offering up a whole series of contradictory assertions about what Rove supposedly told the grand jury - sometimes in the very same breath to the very same reporter.

Here's a typical one from the Washington Post: "I don't think that he has a clear recollection. He's told them that he believes he may have heard it from a journalist."

Now isn't that the double-barreled refuge of a cornered politico - blame the media and claim you can't remember?

Just imagine the uproar if this had been an aide in the Clinton White House.

Whether Rove broke the law remains an open question. The 1982 statute prohibiting the outing of U.S. intelligence agents is packed with loopholes and caveats.

But with each passing briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan is looking more and more like Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's hapless mouthpiece during Watergate.

You almost have to feel sorry for him, as he keeps being forced to swallow his own words.

Back in September 2003, McClellan said it was "totally ridiculous" to think that Rove played any role in outing Plame. On Sept. 29, 2003, the press secretary said he'd "spoken with Karl Rove," and it was "simply not true" that Rove helped disclose her identity.

He added something else that he probably wishes he hadn't - a vow that any White House aide caught in such a leak would be fired.

Asked on June 10, 2004, if he stood by that vow, President Bush spoke with simple clarity. "Yes," he said.

Ah, trust!
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.

The Prosecutor: The Mystery Man

Patrick Fitzgerald has sent a reporter to jail and pulled back the curtain on top staffers' press chats. Does he have a case?

By Jonathan Darman and Michael Isikoff

July 25 issue - Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1970s, Patrick Fitzgerald was so determined to attend the prestigious Regis High School that even a rejection letter couldn't keep him away. When his carefully prepared application was denied, Fitzgerald dialed up Regis's director of admissions and protested that there must have been some mistake. Sure enough, the school had mixed up his entrance exam with that of another Patrick Fitzgerald of Brooklyn who got lower marks. The right Patrick Fitzgerald entered Regis that fall.

Now, Washington is wondering if it's gotten Patrick Fitzgerald wrong, too. For nearly two years, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak investigation has been the city's mystery man, pursuing a murky investigation whose only targets seemed to be members of the press. But as new details emerge about White House efforts to discredit Iraq-war critic Joe Wilson and his CIA agent wife, Washington insiders are seeing Fitzgerald in a new light. Maybe his hard-nosed investigation will do more than just punish reporters. Maybe Fitzgerald's leak investigation will actually uncover who leaked.

To Fitzgerald's friends, the reassessment is long overdue. They point to his record as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York (he brought charges against figures ranging from the Gambino crime family to the Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman to Osama bin Laden) as proof that he is pursuing the greater good. Mary Jo White, the former U.S. attorney who was Fitzgerald's boss in the Southern District, recommended him for his current assignment as U.S. attorney in Chicago. His strength, she says, lies in how he "exercises his power with a real recognition of how awesome it is... He has a strong sense of the nuance."

That doesn't mean he's afraid to step on some toes, especially when they belong to members of the media. Associates say Fitzgerald is wary of reporters, dating back to his days trying terrorist cases. Concerned about protecting national security, he'd go to extraordinary lengths to keep sensitive material secret, only to see it published by meddling journalists. A particularly annoying offender, coincidentally, was Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter. Fitzgerald sent her to jail earlier this month for failing to comply with a court order to testify before the grand jury about conversations she had with sources on a matter about which she never wrote a story. In an earlier, unrelated clash, Fitzgerald had accused Miller of compromising a probe into Islamic charities by phoning one of the groups just before a government crackdown. Launching a leak investigation, he tried to get ahold of Miller's phone records and those of a colleague at the Times. The Times claimed its reporters were following standard practice and that there was no evidence they compromised a federal investigation. A federal judge quashed Fitzgerald's subpoenas.

Fitzgerald is intentionally keeping reporters and everyone else guessing as to what's really going on in his head. Last week, NEWSWEEK has learned, after Time's Matthew Cooper provided grand-jury testimony on his July 11, 2003, conversation with Karl Rove, Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, placed a call to Fitzgerald to make sure he didn't need anything more from Rove in light of Cooper's claims. Fitzgerald didn't bite: "We'll get back to you," the prosecutor replied curtly and quickly got off the line.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.