White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with at least one reporter about Valerie Plame's role at the CIA before she was identified as a covert agent in a newspaper column two years ago, but Rove's lawyer said yesterday that his client did not identify her by name.
Rove had a short conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper on July 11, 2003, three days before Robert D. Novak publicly exposed Plame in a column about her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had come under attack from the White House for his assertions that he found no evidence Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger and that he reported those findings to top administration officials. Wilson publicly accused the administration of leaking his wife's identity as a means of retaliation.
The leak of Plame's name to the news media spawned a federal grand jury investigation that has been seeking to find the origin of the disclosure. Cooper avoided jail time last week by agreeing to testify before the grand jury about conversations with his sources, while New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to discuss her confidential sources.
To be considered a violation of the law, a disclosure by a government official must have been deliberate, the person doing it must have known that the CIA officer was a covert agent, and he or she must have known that the government was actively concealing the covert agent's identity.
Cooper, according to an internal Time e-mail obtained by Newsweek magazine, spoke with Rove before Novak's column was published. In the conversation, Rove gave Cooper a "big warning" that Wilson's assertions might not be entirely accurate and that it was not the director of the CIA or the vice president who sent Wilson on his trip. Rove apparently told Cooper that it was "Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip," according to a story in Newsweek's July 18 issue.
Rove's conversation with Cooper could be significant because it indicates a White House official was discussing Plame prior to her being publicly named and could lead to evidence of how Novak learned her name.
Although the information is revelatory, it is still unknown whether Rove is a focus of the investigation. Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has said that Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has told him that Rove is not a target of the probe. Luskin said yesterday that Rove did not know Plame's name and was not actively trying to push the information into the public realm.
Instead, Luskin said, Rove discussed the matter -- under the cloak of secrecy -- with Cooper at the tail end of a conversation about a different issue. Cooper had called Rove to discuss other matters on a Friday before deadline, and the topic of Wilson came up briefly. Luskin said Cooper raised the question.
"Rove did not mention her name to Cooper," Luskin said. "This was not an effort to encourage Time to disclose her identity. What he was doing was discouraging Time from perpetuating some statements that had been made publicly and weren't true."
In particular, Rove was urging caution because then-CIA Director George J. Tenet was about to issue a statement regarding Iraq's alleged interest in African uranium and its inaccurate inclusion in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. Tenet took the blame for allowing a misleading paragraph into the speech, but Tenet also said that the president, vice president and other senior officials were never briefed on Wilson's report.
After the investigation into the leak began, Luskin said, Rove signed a waiver in December 2003 or January 2004 authorizing prosecutors to speak to any reporters Rove had previously engaged in discussion, which included Cooper.
"His written waiver included the world," Luskin said. "It was intended to be a global waiver. . . . He wants to make sure that the special prosecutor has everyone's evidence. That reflects someone who has nothing to hide."
Cooper had indicated he would go to jail rather than expose a confidential source, but he agreed last week to cooperate with the grand jury after getting clearance from his source to testify. Luskin said Cooper had been clear to testify all along -- because of the waiver signed 18 months ago -- but that the waiver was "reaffirmed" on Wednesday, the day of a hearing to decide whether he and Miller would go to jail.