The Plame Controversy

Bush Reaffirms His Confidence in Rove

Karl Rove and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino listen to President Bush at yesterday's news conference.
Karl Rove and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino listen to President Bush at yesterday's news conference. (By Carol T. Powers -- Bloomberg News)
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 15, 2006

President Bush yesterday reaffirmed his trust in White House strategist Karl Rove, and GOP allies said the longtime presidential adviser has no reason to apologize for his role in the disclosure of a CIA officer's identity three years ago.

"Along with others in the White House, I took a sigh of relief" when the news broke this week that Rove would not be charged in the CIA leak investigation, Bush told reporters in a Rose Garden news conference. "I trust Karl Rove." A senior White House official said Bush and his staff are eager to "put this behind us" as quickly as possible.

But while Rove appears out of legal jeopardy, partisans are already pressing a question that is likely to hound him and Bush for some time: Should Rove be held to account outside the legal system for his part in unmasking CIA officer Valerie Plame and initially telling the nation he was not involved?

The three-year investigation of the Plame leak did not result in criminal charges against Rove, but it did raise questions about his early denials. In 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he consulted Rove and was assured that the senior aide played no role in the leaking of Plame's name to the media. The White House left the clear impression that Rove knew nothing of the leak and certainly did not participate in it.

The subsequent federal investigation determined that Rove talked with at least two reporters about Plame before her identity was disclosed by columnist Robert D. Novak in July 2003, and that he relayed word of those conversations to other White House officials.

Republicans close to Rove argued yesterday that, technically speaking, the aide never lied about his role and that, if anything, he is owed an apology by the media and some Democrats. Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, echoing an argument Rove has made privately to others, said Rove only discussed Plame briefly when questioned by reporters, never mentioned her name specifically and never intended to blow her cover.

"It is now clear he did not leak anybody's name and did not lie about any action," said Gillespie, a close Rove ally.

Democrats dismissed that defense.

"He leaked the name of an intelligence operative at a time of war," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean responded in an interview. "I don't know another president who would not fire someone like this."

Dean said Rove has survived only because Bush suffers from an "incredible blind spot for personal loyalty."

Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador whose criticism of Bush's use of prewar intelligence set in motion the White House campaign that eventually led to the unmasking of his wife, Plame, said Rove owes them and others an apology -- at the very least.

"There is contemporaneous evidence that Mr. Rove was the source of compromising Valerie's identity" to two reporters -- Novak and Time's Matthew Cooper, Wilson said. "Is that the conduct one should expect from a senior government servant?"

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