The reporter for Time magazine who recently agreed to testify in the CIA leak case is central to White House senior adviser Karl Rove's effort to fend off an indictment in the two-year-old investigation, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Viveca Novak, who has written intermittently about the leak case for Time, has been asked to provide sworn testimony to Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in the next few weeks after Rove attorney Robert Luskin told Fitzgerald about a conversation he had with her, the two sources said.
It's not clear why Luskin believes Novak's deposition could help Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, who remains under investigation into whether he provided false statements in the case. But a person familiar with the matter said Luskin cited his conversations with Novak in persuading Fitzgerald not to indict Rove in late October, when the prosecutor brought perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
"This is what caused [Fitzgerald] to hold off on charging" Rove, the source said. But another person familiar with the conversations said they did not appear to significantly alter the case.
Luskin presented evidence, including details of his own conversations with Novak, to Fitzgerald at a secret meeting at a downtown law office shortly before Libby was indicted on Oct. 28, according to a source familiar with the case.
It could not be learned what Luskin and Novak, who are friends, discussed that could help prove Rove did nothing illegal in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to reporters and the subsequent investigation of it.
Novak is not related to Robert D. Novak, the columnist who first disclosed Plame's identity in July 2003. Viveca Novak is expected to write a firsthand account after she is deposed.
The disclosure of Novak's impending testimony is the latest indication that Fitzgerald is still considering charges against Rove and that the investigation of Bush's top aide continues, even as the prosecutor prepares for Libby's trial. It also shows that Rove, who, like Libby, was dragged into the case for talking to reporters, is now hoping that a reporter will help pull him out.
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward told Fitzgerald earlier this month that he had discussed Plame with a senior administration official -- and that the official was someone other than Libby -- before Libby's first conversation with another reporter about Plame. The Libby legal team cheered Woodward's testimony, calling it "a bombshell" and contending that it undercut Fitzgerald's case that Libby was the first official known to have talked about Plame and her CIA status with a reporter.
Libby's legal team plans to rely on testimony from Woodward and other reporters to show that the former Cheney aide is not guilty of lying, providing misleading statements and obstructing justice in the course of the investigation, a person familiar with the legal strategy said.
Luskin, Viveca Novak and Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn declined to comment. The two sources, both of whom are familiar with the Luskin-Novak conversations, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the prosecutor has warned everyone involved in the case not to discuss it publicly.
Fitzgerald has spent the past two years investigating whether any Bush administration officials disclosed Plame's name and employment at the CIA as part of an effort to discredit allegations by her husband, former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, that Bush had twisted intelligence to justify the Iraq war. Fitzgerald has not charged anyone with the crime he originally set out to prove: the illegal disclosure of a covert CIA operative's identity. Instead, he has focused on alleged wrongdoing in the course of the investigation.
Fitzgerald recently disclosed that he plans to present new evidence to a second grand jury. People close to the case said the first area Fitzgerald wants to address is Woodward's testimony and his source, who has not been publicly identified.
Woodward's source could face legal troubles because the source testified earlier in the case and apparently did not mention a conversation with Woodward about Plame, according to lawyers in the case. If the source provided inaccurate or incomplete information, Fitzgerald could seek to bring charges, they said.
Rove's fate remains uncertain. He has testified that he talked to Robert Novak and to Time magazine's Matthew Cooper about Plame's CIA employment. But in his initial conversations with federal investigators and testimony, Rove did not mention the conversation with Cooper, later telling the grand jury he forgot about it and did not intend to mislead anyone, according to lawyers in the case. Luskin has worked behind the scenes to convince Fitzgerald that Rove is guilty of nothing more than a faulty memory.
Time has not disclosed what information Viveca Novak might have that is relevant to the case and Rove's defense. In a brief article Sunday, the magazine reported that she has been asked to discuss conversations with Luskin starting in May 2004, when she first began to report on the leak case.
Time has not objected to Fitzgerald's questioning Novak. The magazine waged a lengthy legal battle to keep Fitzgerald's grand jury from questioning Cooper before acquiescing earlier this year. Unlike Cooper, Viveca Novak is not seeking to protect a confidential source and was not subpoenaed to testify.