Page 2 of 2   <      

Rove Team Cites Warning From Reporter

A grand jury indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, on Oct. 28 for lying and obstructing justice in the investigation of whether any Bush administration officials knowingly disclosed Plame's CIA identity to the media.

According to a source familiar with Novak's conversation with Luskin, the two were having a casual conversation over drinks sometime in early 2004 when Luskin insisted that his client, Rove, faced no danger in the leak investigation. Novak, described as fishing for information or trying to test Luskin's statement, begged to differ. She said she had heard at the magazine that Rove had been a key source for Cooper on information he published about Plame.

Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor, said Novak's conversation with Luskin took place as part of her normal reporting assignment to keep tabs on the Fitzgerald investigation. He said it is inaccurate to suggest that Novak revealed Cooper's source.

"There's no way that Viveca Novak knowingly, wittingly gave up a confidential source to Robert Luskin," Kelly said.

A source familiar with the exchange said the fact that Rove was Cooper's source was known by only a few at the magazine, including Cooper, his Washington bureau editor and Kelly, but it was not as closely guarded a secret as Time editors now believe it should have been.

Novak did not definitively know that Rove had spoken to Cooper about Plame, the source said, but may have heard gossip from colleagues who had reason to know. Kelly said it is unfair and premature to judge Novak's decision to discuss a colleague's possible confidential source with someone outside the news organization.

"I think to be fair to everyone involved here, we're going to wait until after Viveca testifies under oath to address all the issues presented by this new development," he said. "After that happens, we're going to fully review exactly what transpired here. We want to know exactly how this came to be."

Kelly declined to comment on when Novak notified the magazine that Luskin planned to seek her testimony before Fitzgerald.

Media ethics experts said Novak's decision to discuss Cooper's source with someone outside her news organization raises new questions about reporters' willingness to casually trade information with sources. Cooper had promised anonymity to Rove in their telephone call, and Time fought a year-long legal battle to keep him from being forced to break that promise, before ultimately giving in.

Randall Eliason, the former chief of public integrity prosecution at the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, and another former prosecutor, David Schertler, speculated that Fitzgerald would not have considered charging Rove unless he had significant evidence from other witnesses that Rove mentioned the Cooper conversation to them. Now the prosecutor must check out the Novak conversation and weigh it against his other evidence.

"If you're going to bring charges against the White House deputy chief of staff, you want to be absolutely convinced it was an intentional lie," Schertler said. "I think Fitzgerald is looking at this so at the end of the day he can say, 'I explored everything.' "

<       2

© 2005 The Washington Post Company