Rove's Time in Limbo Near End in CIA Leak Case

Karl Rove, with lawyer Robert Luskin, right, and spokesman Mark Corallo in April, said he had forgotten his conversation with reporter Matthew Cooper.
Karl Rove, with lawyer Robert Luskin, right, and spokesman Mark Corallo in April, said he had forgotten his conversation with reporter Matthew Cooper. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald is wrapping up his investigation into White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's role in the CIA leak case by weighing this central question:

Did Rove, who was deeply involved in defending President Bush's use of prewar intelligence about Iraq, lie about a key conversation with a reporter that was aimed at rebutting a tough White House critic?

Fitzgerald, according to sources close to the case, is reviewing testimony from Rove's five appearances before the grand jury. Bush's top political strategist has argued that he never intentionally misled the grand jury about his role in leaking information about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in July 2003. Rove testified that he simply forgot about the conversation when he failed to disclose it to Fitzgerald in his earlier testimony.

Fitzgerald is weighing Rove's foggy-memory defense against evidence he has acquired over nearly 2 1/2 years that shows Rove was very involved in White House efforts to beat back allegations that Bush twisted U.S. intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to sources involved in the case.

That evidence includes details of a one-week period in July 2003 when Rove talked to two reporters about Plame and her CIA role, then reported the conversations back to high-level White House aides, according to sources in the case and information released by Fitzgerald as part of the ongoing leak investigation.

Additionally, one former government official said he testified that Rove talked with White House colleagues about the political importance of defending the prewar intelligence and countering Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. It was Wilson who accused Bush of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear material from Africa. The official refused to be named out of fear of angering Fitzgerald and the White House.

Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, responded that "just because Rove was involved in the defense of the White House Iraq policy, it does not follow that he was necessarily involved in some effort to discredit Wilson personally. Nor does it prove that there even was an effort to disclose Plame's identity in order to punish Wilson."

Rove expects to learn as soon as this month if he will be indicted -- or publicly cleared of wrongdoing -- for making false statements in the CIA leak case, according to sources close to the presidential adviser.

An indictment would be devastating to a White House already battered by low poll numbers, a staff shake-up and a stalled agenda. If Rove is cleared, however, it would allow Bush's longtime top aide to resume his central role as White House strategic guru without a legal threat hanging over him.

Fitzgerald began his investigation 2 1/2 years ago, looking into whether any administration officials knowingly disclosed Plame's CIA role as part of an effort to discredit Wilson's allegation. The former diplomat had been sent on a CIA mission to investigate whether Iraq had sought nuclear weapons material from Niger.

Wilson reported back that the charge could not be proved, but Bush nevertheless asserted in his 2003 State of the Union address that intelligence existed that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa. After Wilson went public with his allegation a few months later, an embarrassed White House was forced to concede that the Africa claim was not based on solid enough evidence.

Fitzgerald has not charged anyone for the crime he initially set out to prove. But last October, he indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was then Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, for perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice during the investigation. It is unclear if anyone other than Rove remains under investigation.

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