Conflicting Stories

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 22, 2005; 1:22 PM

New reports today indicate that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is zeroing in on conflicting stories officials and reporters have provided his grand jury, lending credence to the theory that he may be considering obstruction of justice or perjury charges against top White House officials.

Bloomberg and the New York Times move the ball forward today, courtesy of what appear to be a growing number of leakers.

And here, culled from those and other reports, are what would seem to be some of the harder-to-reconcile contradictions in the case, which started out as an investigation into who leaked a CIA agent's identity -- but which now could be turning into another testament to the Washington maxim that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

· White House chief political strategist Karl Rove reportedly told the grand jury that he first learned of Valerie Plame's identity from columnist Robert Novak -- but Novak's version of the story is that Rove already knew about her when the two spoke.

· Rove didn't mention his conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper to investigators at first and then said it was primarily about welfare reform. But Cooper has testified that the topic of welfare reform didn't came up.

· Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby apparently told prosecutors he first heard about Plame from NBC's Tim Russert, but Russert has testified that he neither offered nor received information about Plame in his conversation with Libby.

· And former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer apparently told prosecutors that he never saw a classified State Department memo that disclosed Plame's identity, but another former official reportedly saw him perusing it on Air Force One.

Here's the Latest

Richard Keil writes for Bloomberg news service: "Two top White House aides have given accounts to a special prosecutor about how reporters first told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said, according to people familiar with the case.

"Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, one person said. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn't tell Libby of Plame's identity, the person said.

"White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak, according a person familiar with the matter. Novak, who was first to report Plame's name and connection to Wilson, has given a somewhat different version to the special prosecutor, the person said. . . .

"There also is a discrepancy between accounts given by Rove and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. The White House aide mentioned Wilson's wife -- though not by name -- in a July 11, 2003, conversation with Cooper, the reporter said. Rove, 55, says that Cooper called him to talk about welfare reform and the Wilson connection was mentioned later, in passing.

"Cooper wrote in Time magazine last week that he told the grand jury he never discussed welfare reform with Rove in that call."


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