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

Thursday, August 11, 2005 > News > Nation -- What exactly did Rove tell the president?

By Pete Yost

2:50 p.m. August 11, 2005

WASHINGTON – Among the many questions surrounding the investigation into who in the Bush administration leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer is whether President Bush's top political adviser told his boss the truth about his connection to the case.
Two years ago, the White House denied that Karl Rove played any role, but revelations in the past month have shown that Rove spoke with two journalists about the operative, Valerie Plame. Whether Bush knew the truth while the White House was issuing its denials is not publicly known.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was so adamant in his denials in September 2003 that he told reporters the president knew that Rove wasn't involved in the leak.

"How does he know that?" a reporter asked, referring to the president.

"I'm not going to get into conversations that the president has with advisers or staff," McClellan replied.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald questioned Bush a year ago and the prosecutor's office has questioned Rove repeatedly, so presumably investigators know the answer to what, if anything, Rove told Bush.

Whether Rove shaded the truth with Bush two years ago is a potential political problem. The president so far has stood by Rove's side, even raising the bar for dismissing subordinates. Two years ago, Bush pledged to fire any leakers, but now he says he would fire anyone who committed a crime.

If Rove didn't tell Bush the truth, that theoretically could be a legal problem for the presidential aide under the federal false statement statute.

Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said the false statement law covers statements made to all members of the executive branch, including the president acting in his official capacity. In contrast, a typical false statement case involves lying to investigators or writing false information on a form to the government.

The difficulties in bringing even a typical false statement case are considerable. Simply misleading someone isn't enough to bring a prosecution.

"If the president asks Rove, 'Do we have anything to worry about here?' and Rove says 'No,' that would not be a false statement," said Henning. "These two men have known each other a long time, the president is not going to question Rove closely as a law enforcement agent would, and that makes all the difference."

Henning is a former federal prosecutor in the Justice Department's fraud section in Washington and has written a law school textbook on white-collar crime.

What is clear about Rove is that after the White House's public denials in 2003 saying Rove wasn't involved in the leak, the presidential aide told investigators behind closed doors about his conversations regarding Plame.

Asked whether it wants to retract its earlier denials, the White House refuses to comment on the grounds that the criminal investigation is ongoing.

Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and apparently at least one other government official were involved in leaking information to reporters about Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Presidential scholars say a White House's refusal to comment can suggest an administration in political trouble.

"When under fire they suddenly hide behind the shield of secrecy as though they have no control over the matter," said Mark J. Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University who has written five books on the presidency.

"What we really don't know factually is whether Rove lied to the president or whether the president knew something about Rove's role and dissembled," said Rozell.

The White House decision not to answer the question makes sense from the standpoint of political damage control, says Steve Hess, senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution.

The CIA leak story "has very little traction on Main Street," but all that would change, Hess said, if someone is indicted in Fitzgerald's criminal investigation.

The federal grand jury investigating the leak expires in October.

Whose side is Karl Rove really on?

Thursday, August 11, 2005
Whose side is Karl Rove really on?

Something is bothering me these days. It involves intelligence. Or not.

I've never been personally accused of having buckets of the stuff myself, but I like to see it in other people, especially people who are running our big, beautiful country.

My worry is Karl Rove, White House senior adviser. Like him or not, we know he's got smarts. He plotted a stupefyingly successful presidential campaign to elect a man who, some say, is at his best when chopping wood at his Home, Home on the Range.

Why is it that now Rove has shot himself in the foot? In fact, shot us all in the collective foot, to hobble us at a time when we need strength, vision, intelligence?

Intelligence in all senses. But I'm talking particularly about the kind we gather, overtly and clandestinely, to keep the world stable and safe for our way of life.

What was Karl Rove thinking when he allegedly snitched on Valerie Plame?

Plame, it seems, was, for decades, a fine CIA undercover operations officer. She hasn't circulated her resume, but it appears that she ran overseas intelligence activities on the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. She recruited undercover agents who dropped into hot spots around the world to uncover information on weapons of mass destruction. She did all this as a "non-official cover operative," meaning that, if discovered, she had no protection and could be executed as a spy.

So, what's the matter with Karl Rove? Doesn't he want good, patriotic, courageous spies on the front line to help protect the world against evil-doers? Don't Republicans punctuate every speech with references to 9/11, terrorism, evil empires? Isn't the main agenda of his administration defense of the homeland and global security?

Why would he jeopardize the operations and lives of agents around the world with whom Plame worked?

Well, the answer would make John Le Carre, consummate English spy novel writer, proud. Many believe Rove wanted to get even with Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had charged that President Bush, in making the case for invading Iraq, had relied on discredited intelligence in citing the Niger-Iraq link.

I picture him combing through Wilson's files for something juicy. Nothing there? No problem. His blond willowy wife must have enough naughtiness in her background to start a feeding frenzy among conservative loudmouths. Exotic dancer? Cat-house madam? Gangster mole? Again, nothing. As a last resort, he spread the word that Ms. Plame was a CIA undercover operations officer who had invited her husband to visit Niger.

Many of us were outraged at hearing that Rove was responsible for the leak. But now the usual smoke screen around administration wrongs poisons the air: Was Rove's action really illegal? Are the reporters responsible? Had the CIA already compromised Plame?

This is all irrelevant. In a time of war, Rove's action might well be deemed treason. And we are at war - with the dangerously moving target of international terrorism - and must count heavily on the work of undercover agents.

Imagine if a Democrat, say, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, had done this. She would be dead meat. But Rove? He shrugs it off. Three times, he testified before the grand jury investigating the leak and, each time, hid the fact that he was the culprit.

Our President supports Rove's antics: "Karl's got my complete confidence. He's a valuable member of my team."

He certainly is a valuable member of your team, Mr. President. He's working hard to keep you and yours in power. But the question is this: Is he a valuable member of the team of the American public?

Side Issue in the Plame Case: Who Sent Her Spouse to Africa?

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005; A08

The origin of Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's trip to Niger in 2002 to check out intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium has become a contentious side issue to the inquiry by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who is looking into whether a crime was committed with the exposure of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, as a covert CIA employee.

After he went public in 2003 about the trip, senior Bush administration officials, trying to discredit Wilson's findings, told reporters that Wilson's wife, who worked at the CIA, was the one who suggested the Niger mission for her husband. Days later, Plame was named as an "agency operative" by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who has said he did not realize he was, in effect, exposing a covert officer. A Senate committee report would later say evidence indicated Plame suggested Wilson for the trip.

Over the past months, however, the CIA has maintained that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD) -- not by his wife -- largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report.

The 2002 mission grew out of a request by Vice President Cheney on Feb. 12 for more information about a Defense Intelligence Agency report he had received that day, according to a 2004 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. An aide to Cheney would later say he did not realize at the time that this request would generate such a trip.

Wilson maintains that his wife was asked that day by one of her bosses to write a memo about his credentials for the mission--after they had selected him. That memo apparently was included in a cable to officials in Africa seeking concurrence with the choice of Wilson, the Senate report said.

Valerie Wilson's other role, according to intelligence officials, was to tell Wilson he had been selected, and then to introduce him at a meeting at the CIA on Feb. 19, 2002, in which analysts from different agencies discussed the Niger trip. She told the Senate committee she left the session after her introduction.

Senior Bush administration officials told a different story about the trip's origin in the days between July 8 and July 12, 2003. They said that Wilson's wife was working at the CIA dealing with weapons of mass destruction and that she suggested him for the Niger trip, according to three reporters.

The Bush officials passing on this version were apparently attempting to undercut the credibility of Wilson, who on Sunday, July 6, 2003, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" and in The Washington Post and the New York Times that he had checked out the allegation in Niger and found it to be wrong. He criticized President Bush for misrepresenting the facts in his January 2003 State of the Union address when he said Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa.

Time magazine's Matthew Cooper has written that he was told by Karl Rove on July 11 "don't get too far out on Wilson" because information was going to be declassified soon that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and findings. Cooper also wrote that Rove told him that Wilson's wife worked for the agency on weapons of mass destruction and that "she was responsible for sending Wilson."

This Washington Post reporter spoke the next day to an administration official, who talked on the condition of anonymity, and was told in substance "that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction," as reported in an Oct. 14 article.

Novak had been told earlier in the week about Wilson's wife. He has written that he asked a senior administration official why Wilson, who had held a National Security Council staff position in the Clinton administration, had been given that assignment. The response, Novak wrote, was that "Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife." Novak then called another Bush official for confirmation and got the response "Oh, you know about it." Novak said he called the CIA on July 10, 2003, to get the agency's version. The then-CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, told the columnist that the story he had gotten about Wilson's wife's role was not correct. Novak has written that Harlow said the CPD officials selected Wilson but that she "was delegated to request his help."

Harlow has said that he told Novak that if he wrote about the trip, he should not mention Wilson's wife's name. Novak, who published her maiden name -- Valerie Plame -- has written that Harlow's request was "meaningless" because "once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as 'Valerie Plame' by reading her husband's entry in 'Who's Who in America.' "

In the July 14, 2003, column, Novak wrote that Plame was an "agency operative" and that "two senior administration officials" told him that she "suggested sending him to Niger." He also wrote that "CIA officials did not regard Wilson's intelligence as definitive" because they would expect the Niger officials to deny the allegation. Although Novak cited the two officials' version of events, he also included the CIA's opposing view: that "its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him."

Two other sources appear to support the view that Wilson's wife suggested her husband's trip. One is a June 2003 memo by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). The other, which depends in good part on the INR document, is a statement of the views of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and two other Republican members. That statement was attached to the full committee report on its 2004 inquiry into the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The INR document's reference to the Wilson trip is contained in two sentences in a three-page memo on why the State Department disagreed with the idea that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa -- a view that would ultimately be endorsed after the Iraq invasion by the U.S. weapons hunter David Kay. The notes supporting those two sentences in the INR document say that the Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA was "apparently convened by [the former ambassador's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue," according to the Senate intelligence committee report. But one Senate Democratic staff member said, "That was speculation, that was not true."

The full Senate committee report says that CPD officials "could not recall how the office decided to contact" Wilson but that "interviews and documents indicate his wife suggested his name for the trip." The three Republican senators wrote that they were more certain: "The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee."

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