By Carol D. Leonnig and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 14, 2005 7:39 PM
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove today testified again before a grand jury probing whether senior Bush administration officials illegally leaked to reporters the identity of a covert CIA operative.
It was Rove's fourth appearance before the grand jury. He testified for 4 hours and 15 minutes but said nothing to reporters when he left the courthouse. According to a source familiar with the investigation, Rove was warned by the special prosecutor's office that it could not assure he would not be indicted.
Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald also had no comment after Rove's testimony.
Fitzgerald is believed to be wrapping up his investigation; the current grand jury's term expires Oct. 28.
The grand jury is examining whether officials leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to the media in July 2003 as retaliation for public criticism by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, of the government's case for war in Iraq.
On July 6, 2003, Wilson contended in an opinion piece that administration claims that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear materials in Niger were false. Wilson had been sent to the African nation by the CIA to investigate the claims. Eight days later, on July 14, Plame's name and a reference to her CIA employment appeared in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak.
Rove has testified before that he talked with two reporters about Plame during that time period, but referred to her only as Wilson's wife and never supplied information about her status as an undercover CIA operative.
Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, also testified that he discussed Plame with at least two reporters but said that he, too, never mentioned her name or her covert status, according to lawyers in the case.
Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, told reporters that prosecutors informed his client they probably would not need further testimony from him, although they had not yet decided whether to charge him with a crime.
"The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation, and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges," Luskin said, according to the Associated Press.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan parried questions about whether Rove's grand jury testimony was a distraction to the administration.
"Well, there are a lot of important priorities that we're focused on here at the White House," McClellan said. "We are a nation at war. The president is continuing to lead the effort to win the war on terrorism. We are focused on the priorities of the American people. . . . We are working to spread freedom abroad. We're working to spread opportunity at home."
Asked if President Bush still has "full confidence in Karl Rove," McClellan declined to answer directly, citing the "ongoing investigation." He added, "Karl continues to do his duties as deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the president. . . . The president has made it very clear: We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation."
Rove, 54, who has known the Bush family for more than 30 years, is considered one of Bush's closest advisers and his top political strategist. His association with the family started in 1973 when he worked as an assistant to Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who was then chairman of the Republican National Committee. Rove served as an adviser to George W. Bush in two successful election campaigns for governor of Texas in the 1990s and was the chief strategist for Bush's two presidential campaigns.
The White House denied two years ago that Rove had been involved in leaking Plame's identity. At around the same time, Bush vowed to fire any staff member who was responsible for such a leak. He later said he would fire anyone on his staff who committed a crime. But he refused to say at a news conference last week whether he would dismiss an aide who was indicted.
According to two former prosecutors, a witness who has already appeared before a grand jury may be recalled to explain why earlier answers appear to conflict with the accounts of other witnesses, or simply to testify about new topics that have arisen in the investigation.
Under Justice Department guidelines, prosecutors must provide witnesses the opportunity to testify again if they want to recant previous testimony that may have been false. The new testimony would not necessarily prevent a prosecutor from bringing charges, but it could be part of that person's defense.
At least three other people have testified before the grand jury since Rove last answered questions: Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper, New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Rove's secretary. Miller, who initially refused to appear and served 85 days in jail for contempt of court, has testified twice before the grand jury since her release.
Under an agreement with Fitzgerald, Miller's testimony focused on her conversations with Libby.
Rove's secretary was questioned about why a phone call from Cooper to Rove in 2003 was not recorded in White House phone logs, according to sources familiar with the probe. She reportedly explained that Cooper called the main switchboard and his call was not logged because it was rerouted to Rove's office.