Rove Team Cites Warning From Reporter

By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 3, 2005

A reporter for Time magazine told Karl Rove's attorney in early 2004 that the White House deputy chief of staff might be in more legal trouble than he originally thought, according to sources familiar with the conversation. Now, Rove is relying on that casual exchange as part of a broad effort to convince a prosecutor he did not lie about his role in the CIA leak case, the sources said.

A conversation between longtime friends -- Viveca Novak, who has helped cover the case for Time, and Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney -- is at the heart of the latest legal maneuvering in the two-year-old case.

Over drinks, Novak told Luskin that Time employees were buzzing that Rove had talked to her colleague Matthew Cooper about CIA operative Valerie Plame in July 2003, sources familiar with the conversation said.

Rove, the president's top political aide, remains under investigation into whether he made false statements for initially failing to tell the FBI and the grand jury that he had spoken to Cooper for a story Cooper wrote on the case.

It is not clear why, or if, the information from Novak could help clear Rove, but Luskin used it and other information to persuade Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald to rethink indicting Rove in late October, according to a source briefed on the matter. Now, Fitzgerald is preparing to question Novak about the conversation as early as next week.

One person familiar with the case said the Novak-Luskin conversation is not what prompted Rove to change his testimony in the case. In fact, this person said, Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection before Rove's first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004. In that appearance, Rove testified that he did not recall talking to Cooper about Plame. It was not until October 2004 that Rove told the grand jury he recalled the Cooper chat.

New details emerged yesterday of Rove's version of how and when he came to remember the Cooper conversation. Shortly before his client's second appearance before the grand jury in October, Luskin personally conducted a review of thousands of e-mails Rove had sent during the crucial weeks in 2003, including those from accounts reserved for personal and political correspondence, a source familiar with the situation said.

Amid the e-mails, Luskin found one sent from Rove to Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser, in which Rove mentioned his conversation with Cooper. The e-mail was written from Rove's government account, which investigators searched early in the inquiry. It is unclear why the e-mail was not discovered at that time.

Once found by Luskin, the e-mail was shared with Rove and then quickly turned over to Fitzgerald, the source said. Rove then testified that the e-mail "established that he had in fact had a conversation with Cooper," the source said.

Legal sources involved in the probe said Rove's timing in ultimately recalling -- or finally revealing -- his conversation with Cooper is certainly significant to Fitzgerald as he considers whether to charge the White House adviser. Rove provided the information on Oct. 15, 2004, to the grand jury. That new testimony came exactly one month after Fitzgerald issued a new subpoena to Cooper calling upon him to testify before the grand jury about Rove.

It also came two days after Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan issued a contempt citation that ordered Cooper to testify.

Fitzgerald has spent the past two years investigating whether White House officials leaked Plame's name to the media to discredit allegations made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

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