Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, spoke with Time magazine's Matthew Cooper during a critical week in July 2003 when Cooper was reporting on a public critic of the Bush administration who was also the husband of a CIA operative, his lawyer confirmed yesterday.
Rove is identified in Cooper's notes from that time period, which Time turned over Friday to special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald -- under court order. Fitzgerald is investigating whether senior administration officials leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters in July 2003 as retaliation after her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify a war with Iraq.
Rove's lawyer said Rove never identified Plame to Cooper in those conversations. More significantly, Robert Luskin said, Fitzgerald assured him in October and again last week that Rove is not a target of his investigation.
"Karl did nothing wrong. Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity to Mr. Cooper or anybody else," Luskin said. Luskin said the question remains unanswered: "Who outed this woman? . . . It wasn't Karl."
Cooper has said that more than one confidential source is identified in his e-mails and the notes of interviews he conducted in July 2003 after Wilson's opinion piece appeared in the New York Times. Reporters were calling the White House with questions about Wilson's assertions, which senior government officials tried to discredit.
Plame's name first appeared in Robert D. Novak's syndicated column in July 2003, eight days after Wilson's opinion piece critical of the Bush administration appeared in the Times. Wilson was sent by the CIA in 2002 to investigate allegations that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in the African nation of Niger, and he reported that he found no proof. His opinion piece accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq
After the Novak column, Wilson said the White House had damaged his wife's career and had put all her contacts in jeopardy. He initially accused Rove of being behind the leak, then retracted that statement. It is a felony to knowingly identify a covert operative.
Rove answered questions under oath for about two hours before a grand jury on Oct. 15 as part of the special prosecutor's investigation. According to Luskin, the prosecutor said he believes Rove was candid and forthcoming about his contact with reporters.
"I've been assured by the prosecutor they have no reason to doubt the honesty of anything he's said," Luskin said.
Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller face four months in jail as early as Wednesday for defying Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan's order to cooperate with Fitzgerald's investigation. The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the reporters' appeals of Hogan's order.