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Time Reporter Testifies About Contacts With Rove

Matthew Cooper, right, a Time reporter with whom Bush aide Karl Rove discussed a CIA operative, leaves U.S. District Court here with lawyer Richard Sauber after testifying before a grand jury.
Matthew Cooper, right, a Time reporter with whom Bush aide Karl Rove discussed a CIA operative, leaves U.S. District Court here with lawyer Richard Sauber after testifying before a grand jury. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)

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By Jim VandeHei and Carol Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 14, 2005

The reporter with whom Karl Rove discussed a covert CIA operative testified before a grand jury yesterday, as President Bush appeared publicly with his top White House political adviser and cautioned against prejudging the federal leak investigation.

Matthew Cooper, the Time magazine reporter who for months had refused to disclose private conversations with Rove, emerged from a federal courthouse here after more than two hours of testimony but shed little light on what he told prosecutors.

A number of legal experts, some of whom are involved in the case, said evidence that has emerged publicly suggests Rove or other administration officials face potential legal threats on at least three fronts.

The first is the unmasking of CIA official Valerie Plame, the original focus of special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's probe. But legal sources say there are indications the prosecutor is looking at two other areas related to the administration's handling of his investigation. One possible legal vulnerability is perjury, if officials did not testify truthfully to a federal grand jury, and another is obstructing justice, if they tried to coordinate cover stories to obscure facts.

Legal experts said the evidence that has emerged in recent days -- including confirmation that Rove and Cooper spoke about Plame's role at the CIA as a way of knocking down a damaging story about the administration's Iraq policy -- does not by itself necessarily indicate a crime was committed. Even so, White House officials acknowledged privately that they are concerned that the investigation will lead to an indictment of someone in the administration later this year.

The White House had declared that Rove was not involved in Plame's unmasking, and, when the controversy broke in the summer of 2003, Bush said he would fire anyone who illegally outed a CIA official. But the president steered clear of substantive comment yesterday, his first public remarks since Rove's role was confirmed.

"This is a serious investigation," Bush told reporters. "It is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports."

Rove was seated directly behind the president as he spoke after a Cabinet meeting. Bush reiterated that every member of his staff has been ordered to comply with investigators and said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush fully supports Rove, though the president did not make such a statement when asked twice by reporters about Rove's role in the Plame controversy.

At the courthouse, Cooper declined to provide details about his testimony. He added that he had "no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine."

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Cooper's grand jury appearance was enabled by Rove's assurance that he was not asking for confidential-source status and did not object to the reporter's testimony. "By facilitating Cooper's testimony, Rove has helped ensure the special prosecutor has access to all relevant information from every source," Luskin said. "Cooper's truthful testimony today will not call into question the accuracy or completeness of anything Rove has previously said to the prosecutor or grand jury. . . . Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation."

Outside the courtroom and away from the White House, Republicans stepped up their defense of Rove, while Democrats intensified their drumbeat for Bush to fire Rove, or at least revoke his security clearance. Democrats on the House intelligence committee said Rove's security clearance should be blocked until the investigation is complete. The White House has no plans to pull Rove's clearance, aides said.

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