By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove will not be indicted in the CIA leak investigation, his attorney announced yesterday, a decision that signals that a special prosecutor's probe is unlikely to threaten any other Bush administration officials.
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, in a short letter delivered Monday afternoon that he "does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove in the case, Luskin said. Rove was told about 4 p.m. while aboard a Southwest Airlines flight en route to a campaign speech in New Hampshire, but he waited until early yesterday morning to publicly reveal the news.
The announcement ends months of speculation about Rove's legal future and frees the architect of President Bush's presidential victories to resume his central White House role without the threat of criminal charges hanging over him. Rove, who spent countless hours preparing for five grand jury appearances in the case and sharpening his defense, was "delighted, obviously," Luskin said. "We've always said he did everything he could to cooperate" with the prosecutor, he added.
"It's a chapter that has ended," Bush told reporters during his trip back from Iraq. The president said he thinks Fitzgerald "has conducted his investigation in a dignified way."
With Rove's situation resolved, the broader leak investigation is probably over, according to a source briefed on the status of the case. Fitzgerald does not appear to be pursuing criminal charges against former State Department official Richard L. Armitage, who is believed to have discussed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame with at least one reporter, according to the source.
"I'm not worried about my situation," Armitage said last night on the Charlie Rose television show.
A source briefed on the case said that the activities of Vice President Cheney and his aides were a key focus of the investigation, and that Cheney was not considered a target or primary subject of the investigation and is not likely to become one. There are no other outstanding issues to be investigated, the source said, though new ones could emerge as Fitzgerald continues to prosecute I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, on charges of lying to investigators and a grand jury.
Rove does not emerge from the investigation unscathed, however. His credibility took a hit inside and outside the White House when he allowed then-Bush spokesman Scott McClellan to tell reporters that he had no role in the unmasking of Plame, the CIA officer at the center of the leak scandal. The investigation has shown that, in a one-week period in 2003, Rove spoke to two reporters about Plame and her CIA role, then reported back to other senior White House officials, according information publicly released by Fitzgerald and by sources familiar with the case.
The episode left McClellan and a few other White House aides upset that they were initially misled by Rove, according to several administration sources. Other White House officials said the case seemed to distract Rove at times and compounded Bush's political problems since his 2004 reelection victory.
An indictment would have been devastating, both politically and practically, for the White House. Rove is intimately involved in efforts to retain GOP majorities in the House and the Senate and to revive the Bush presidency.
Instead, Republicans cheered yesterday's news and charged Democrats with smearing Rove's name by suggesting that he was guilty of lying over the past few months.
"Even when it's against the interests of what is in our nation's interest, you're seeing Democrats prejudging for political purposes," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said on MSNBC. "It was wrong when they did it to Karl Rove."
Democrats said Rove remains a symbol of fading White House credibility. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said yesterday that he should have been fired long ago.
In an interview, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y) said that he trusted Fitzgerald's judgment in the case, but he called on the special counsel to eventually release a report that details the roles of Rove and other White House officials in the leak of Plame's name.
"There is a fundamental here: The American people have lost faith in this White House," he said. "Things like this will not restore their faith."
Still, Democrats acknowledged that the all-clear signal for Rove will provide a political boost for the Bush White House and for Republicans. Rove, who was stripped of day-to-day policy management as part of the recent White House shake-up, is a political force not only inside the Oval Office but also among many Republicans seeking advice on how to win congressional races in a tough political climate for the GOP. A popular figure among conservatives, he is expected to intensify his campaigning and fundraising in the months ahead.
Fitzgerald's spokesman declined to comment.
Fitzgerald is investigating whether any administration officials knowingly disclosed Plame's CIA role as part of an effort to discredit allegations by her husband -- former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- that Bush had twisted prewar intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq. Wilson had been sent by the CIA to investigate whether Iraq had sought nuclear weapons material from Niger. He 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 allegations a few months later, the White House was forced to concede that the Africa assertion was not based on solid evidence. But that was not before Libby, Rove and others set out to discredit Wilson, in part by telling reporters that his wife, a CIA officer, may have helped set up the Niger trip. Plame's name and affiliation with the intelligence agency was first revealed in a July 2003 column by Robert D. Novak, who has not revealed his sources for the story.
The CIA leak case is likely to remain a distraction for the White House. Libby was indicted last October on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice in the case. His trial is expected to begin in January, and legal filings in the case are likely to bring out new details of the role White House officials played in unmasking Plame.
In recent months, court filings have revealed more about Cheney's hands-on role in the White House effort to rebut Wilson, which resulted in the disclosure of Plame's name.
Cheney, Rove and other top White House officials could be called as witnesses in the Libby trial. It is also possible that others could be charged in the case if Fitzgerald discovers new evidence. Recent court filings have described the investigation as ongoing.
But the full details of Rove's role may never be known, because Fitzgerald is not required to issue a public report on his probe. Though Fitzgerald initially showed interest in Rove after learning, in the course of the investigation, that Rove had discussed Plame with reporters, lawyers in the case said the prosecutor spent the past two years or more trying to determine whether Rove lied to the grand jury.
Specifically, Fitzgerald wanted to know if Rove purposely hid from the grand jury in February 2004 the fact that he had discussed Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
Rove would later tell the grand jury that he had simply forgotten the conversation with Cooper until his lawyers found an e-mail months later that showed that the Rove-Cooper conversation had occurred. For much of the investigation, Fitzgerald seemed skeptical of Rove's foggy-memory defense. In fact, a few days before he indicted Libby, Fitzgerald appeared ready to charge Rove, the lawyers said.
At that point, Luskin stepped forward and offered last-minute evidence that he seemed confident would clear Rove. Eight months later, that came to pass.
Staff writers Carol D. Leonnig and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.