White House senior adviser Karl Rove indirectly confirmed the CIA affiliation of an administration critic's wife for Robert D. Novak the week before the columnist named her and revealed her position, a lawyer involved in the case said last night.

The operative, Valerie Plame, is the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who had publicly disputed the White House's contention that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium from Niger for possible use in a nuclear weapon.

The lawyer, who has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors, said President Bush's deputy chief of staff has told investigators that he first learned about the operative from a journalist and that he later learned her name from Novak.

Rove has said he does not recall who the journalist was who first told him that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, or when the conversation occurred, the lawyer said.

The New York Times reported the conversation between Rove and Novak in its Friday editions. The lawyer confirmed that account and elaborated on it. The account suggests that Rove could not have been Novak's original source but may have been a secondary source. Novak has refused to comment about his sources or to say whether he has cooperated with prosecutors.

The lawyer said that Novak showed up on a White House call log as having telephoned Rove in the week before the publication of the July 2003 column, which has touched off a two-year federal investigation and led to the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has refused to testify about her conversation with a source involved in the case.

The White House turned over call logs relating to the case, along with stacks of printed e-mails, at the request of federal investigators.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has been investigating the leak of Plame's name, which could be a felony under certain circumstances, such as if the person who leaked her name did so knowing that the government was working to keep her identity a secret.

The new account means that Rove talked to both of the journalists who are known to have published original accounts about Plame. Rove's representatives have said that he mentioned the issue in the most general terms and did not name Plame. Democrats say he was trying to fuel stories that would punish an administration critic.

The lawyer said Novak had telephoned Rove to discuss another column, about Frances Fragos Townsend, who had been named deputy national security adviser for terrorism in May 2003. That column ran in Novak's home paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, on July 10, 2003, under the headline "Bush sets himself up for another embarrassment."

At the end of that 15- or 20-minute call, according to the lawyer, Novak said he had learned that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

"I heard that, too," Rove replied, according to the lawyer, confirming the Times account.

In accounts of both conversations that have been made public, Rove does not give Plame's name and discusses the matter only at the end of an interview on an unrelated topic. Rove has said he did not know Plame's name and did not know she was undercover. If that is the case, it is unlikely that the disclosure is a crime.

The other original account about Plame, besides Novak's column, was on Time magazine's Web site. Rove was identified as a source for that article in an internal Time e-mail that was turned over to prosecutors July 1 after the magazine battled to the Supreme Court to try to preserve the privacy of the material.

Matthew Cooper, a White House correspondent for Time who talked to Rove for the article, testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury investigating the case. The e-mail said Rove talked to Cooper only on what the correspondent referred to as "double super secret background," meaning that the information could not be attributed to the White House.

Rove's representatives have said that Cooper brought up the issue at the end of another conversation. Cooper has not given his account publicly.

Republican lawyers working with Rove say he was not pushing a story about Plame but was trying to steer Cooper away from giving too much credence to Wilson.

The conversation occurred July 8 or 9, 2003, the lawyer said. The column that named Plame ran in the Sun-Times on July 14, 2003.

It said: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

Sources who have reviewed some of the testimony before the grand jury say there is significant evidence that reporters were in some cases alerting officials about Plame's identity and relationship to Wilson -- not the other way around.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, has also testified before the grand jury, saying he was alerted by someone in the media to Plame's identity, according to a source familiar with his account. Cooper has previously testified that he brought up the subject of Plame with Libby and that Libby responded that he had heard about her from someone else in the media, according to sources knowledgeable about Cooper's testimony.

Rove, who moved from Texas to Washington with Bush and was the architect of both his presidential campaigns, has the title of senior adviser to the president and in the second term received the additional title of White House deputy chief of staff.

Staff writer Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.