By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove sought to convince a federal grand jury yesterday that he did not provide false statements in the CIA leak case, testifying for more than three hours before leaving a federal courthouse unsure whether he would be indicted, according to a source close to the presidential aide.
In his fifth appearance before the grand jury, Rove spent considerable time arguing that it would have been foolish for him to knowingly mislead investigators about his role in the disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media, the source said. His grand jury appearance, which was kept secret even from Rove's closest White House colleagues until shortly before he went to court yesterday, suggests that prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald remains keenly interested in Rove's role in the case.
Rove for the first time partly waived his attorney-client privilege to detail conversations he had with his attorney, Robert Luskin, about the leak and his knowledge of it, the source said.
Rove's testimony focused almost exclusively on his conversation about Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in 2003 and whether the top aide later tried to conceal it, the source said. Rove testified, in essence, that "it would have been a suicide mission" to "deliberately lie" about his conversation with Cooper because he knew beforehand that it eventually would be revealed, the source said. Lawyers involved in the case said yesterday that they expect a decision on Rove's fate soon.
The source's account could not be corroborated by the prosecutor's office, which has declined to discuss the case.
Luskin said in a statement that the top Bush strategist testified "voluntarily and unconditionally" at Fitzgerald's behest.
"In connection with this appearance, the special counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target of the investigation," Luskin said in a statement. "Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges." Regarding Rove's testimony, Luskin said that it centered on information that has surfaced since he last testified, in October 2005. A spokesman for Fitzgerald declined to comment on the case.
The leak investigation, which led to the indictment last year of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, began after administration officials were accused of disclosing Plame's identity as part of a broader White House effort to discredit critics of the administration's justification for the Iraq war.
Specifically, Fitzgerald began investigating in late 2003 whether administration officials illegally disclosed Plame's post at the CIA to discredit allegations made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. In the summer of 2003, Wilson publicly charged that President Bush had twisted intelligence about Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons material to justify the invasion.
The disclosure of Plame's name was used to argue that because she had helped set up a trip Wilson took to Niger to investigate Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear material, that mission was little more than a boondoggle.
Fitzgerald has not charged anyone with the original crime. But in October 2005, a grand jury indicted Libby on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice in the course of the investigation. Libby's trial is scheduled to begin early next year. He has denied the charges, and his lawyers say that he is guilty of nothing more than a faulty memory and that he is the victim of an overzealous prosecutor.
The Libby case has served as a constant distraction for the White House and comes at a politically turbulent time for the president. A court filing by Fitzgerald earlier this month, for instance, provided the new and politically damaging revelation that Bush had authorized Libby to disclose previously classified information about Iraq's weapons programs. The president did not authorize Libby to leak information about Plame, however, according to Libby's legal team.
Rove, who recently gave up his role in White House policy as part of a staff shake-up, testified only hours after Bush named Tony Snow as his new press secretary. Snow replaces Scott McClellan, who has come under fire for initially telling the media that Rove was not involved in the Plame leak.
In grand jury appearances and other conversations with federal investigators, Rove has testified that he discussed Wilson's wife briefly with columnist Robert D. Novak and Cooper before she was publicly unmasked in July 2003, according to lawyers in the case. Fitzgerald zeroed in on Rove's contact with Cooper yesterday, according to the source who provided Rove's version of events.
The source said Rove testified in February 2004 that he did not recall discussing Plame with Cooper. Rove told the prosecutor that at the time he had no recollection of that short conversation with one of the scores of reporters he talks to in his job.
Cooper later testified and then a wrote a first-person account that Rove told him that Wilson's wife was in the CIA and had authorized her husband's CIA mission.
Rove would later tell the grand jury that he had forgotten that conversation and remembered it only after his legal team unearthed a crucial e-mail. The e-mail -- written by Rove to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley shortly after the Cooper conversation -- shows Rove saying he waved the Time reporter off Wilson's claim. Luskin found the e-mail as part of a document search he conducted before Rove testified a second time in October 2004, telling the grand jury that the conversation must have taken place.
All the while, Fitzgerald suspected that Rove was acknowledging what had happened only because new evidence was surfacing, according to lawyers in the case. But Rove and his lawyer have presented an alternative explanation: that Rove genuinely did not remember his conversation with Cooper, and testified to that effect even though he was aware of rumors that he was one of Cooper's sources.
The new information Luskin cited in his statement yesterday relates to this part of the saga. After agreeing to a partial waiver of attorney-client privilege, Rove testified yesterday about a conversation Luskin had with former Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak, the source said. (Viveca Novak is not related to Robert Novak, the columnist who first revealed Plame's identity in 2003.) Luskin had informed Fitzgerald about that conversation last October, a few days before Libby was indicted, in a last-ditch effort to save Rove from the same fate.
Luskin told the prosecutor that Viveca Novak had informed him that she had heard from other Time reporters that Rove was Cooper's source for a July 2003 story on Plame. Luskin shared this information with Rove -- before Rove testified that he did not recall his conversation with Cooper.
Yesterday, Rove told the grand jury that it would make no sense for him to lie in February, knowing that all of this would soon be public, the source said.
But the timing of that Luskin-Novak conversation is in dispute. Novak has said she testified that the conversation took place between January and May of 2004 -- which could place it either before or after Rove's initial grand jury testimony. Moreover, Rove did not know at that point that Cooper would later be forced to testify and reveal him as a source, according to lawyers who follow the case.
Rove also testified that he was aware that several aides had been subpoenaed in the case before that first grand jury appearance and that they would be forced to turn over documents.