Testimony By Rove and Libby Examined

By Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 23, 2005

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been reviewing over the past several months discrepancies and gaps in witness testimony in his investigation of the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, according to lawyers in the case and witness statements.

Fitzgerald has spent considerable time since the summer of 2004 looking at possible conflicts between what White House senior adviser Karl Rove and vice presidential staff chief I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told a grand jury and investigators, and the accounts of reporters who talked with the two men, according to various sources in the case.

Libby has testified that he learned about Plame from NBC correspondent Tim Russert, according to a source who spoke with The Washington Post some months ago. Russert said in a statement last year that he told the prosecutor that "he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative" and that he did not provide such information to Libby in July 2003.

Prosecutors have also probed Rove's testimony about his telephone conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in the crucial days before Plame's name was revealed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak.

Rove has testified thathe and Cooper talked about welfare reform foremost and turned to the topic of Plame only near the end, lawyers involved in the case said. But Cooper, writing about his testimony in the most recent issue of Time, said he "can't find any record of talking about" welfare reform. "I don't recall doing so," Cooper wrote.

Both Libby's attorney and Rove's attorney declined to comment yesterday, as did Fitzgerald's office. The possible conflicts in the accounts given by Russert and Libby were first reported yesterday by Bloomberg News.

Fitzgerald's review of apparent discrepancies are further evidence that his investigation has ranged beyond his original mission to determine if someone broke the law by knowingly revealing the identity of a covert operative.

The leaks case centers on the Bush administration's response in the days after July 6, 2003, when former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV accused the Bush administration in the New York Times and The Washington Post of twisting intelligence to justify a war with Iraq. He wrote in an op-ed piece that on a U.S. mission to Niger, he found no proof of the claim that Iraq was trying to acquire materials for nuclear weapons. Eight days later, Novak published a column suggesting that the administration did not take Wilson's findings seriously and noting that Wilson's wife -- Plame -- was a CIA operative who had suggested him for the trip.

After building criticism that someone in the administration had jeopardized an agent in political retaliation, Fitzgerald was appointed by the Justice Department in December 2003 to conduct an independent investigation.

Fitzgerald has long been interested in a Time magazine article co-written by Cooper shortly after Novak's column was published on July 14, 2003. In the article, Cooper and two colleagues wrote about the administration's efforts to discredit Wilson and noted that some government sources had revealed that Plame worked for the CIA.

Lawyers involved in the case said there are now indications that Fitzgerald did not initially know or suspect that Rove was Cooper's primary source for the reporter's information about Plame. That raises questions about how much Rove disclosed when first questioned in the inquiry or how closely he was initially queried about his contacts with reporters. Rove has testified before a grand jury and been questioned by FBI agents on at least five occasions over the past two years.

Two lawyers involved in the case say that although Fitzgerald used phone logs to determine some contacts between officials and reporters, they believe there is no phone record of Cooper's now-famous call to Rove in the days before Novak's column appeared. That is because Cooper called the White House switchboard and was reconnected to Rove's office, sources said.

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