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Despite His Demeanor, Rove's Still a Target

Despite His Demeanor, Rove's Still a Target


By Jason Leopold

The special prosecutor investigating the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson is trying to determine whether Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove lied to the FBI when he was first interviewed by agents about his role in the case in October 2003, attorneys close to the case said.

News reports in recent weeks have suggested that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has narrowed his criminal inquiry into whether Rove purposely failed to tell the grand jury hearing evidence in the case that he spoke with Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in July 2003 and revealed the identity of the undercover CIA agent.

But Fitzgerald hasn't resolved another important element in the case: what appears to be misleading statements Rove made to FBI investigators on Oct. 8, 2003, less than two weeks after the Justice Department announced that it had launched a criminal probe into Plame's outing, the attorneys said.

Those close to the case say that Rove was caught up in a game of semantics when he was questioned by FBI investigators, insisting to federal agents that he was not the individual who had leaked Plame-Wilson's identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak. Novak was the first to make public her name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003 column.

Rove told investigators that he merely passed along information about Plame-Wilson to other journalists and White House officials after it had already appeared in Novak's column, the attorneys said. He maintained, they added, that it was entirely within his right to do so being that Plame-Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was publicly criticizing the Bush Administration and had claimed in a New York Times op-ed that it had "twisted" prewar intelligence to build public support for a preemptive military strike against Iraq.

According to lawyers, Rove did not tell FBI investigators in 2003 that he had spoken with Novak prior to his column being published and had been one of the two "senior administration officials" cited in Novak's column as having confirmed Plame's identity and CIA employment.

Rove was named as "Official A," the person who confirmed Plame's CIA status for Novak, in the 22-page indictment against Vice President Cheney's erstwhile chief of staff.

Fitzgerald is now trying to piece together evidence as to whether Rove obstructed the investigation into Plame's outing, a felony, during that first interview he had with the FBI, as well as allegedly lying to the federal agents, the attorneys said.

A Mar. 8, 2004 story in the American Prospect related to Rove's testimony noted that, "Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July."

Indeed. An American Prospect report published in March 2004 said that Rove told the FBI that the White House undertook an aggressive campaign to undercut Wilson's credibility by leaking disparaging information about Wilson and his wife to the press. Rove disclosed that the Administration enlisted conservative interest groups and the Republican National Committee to get the job done, suggesting that perhaps dozens more individuals than previously known were aware of Plame-Wilson's classified CIA status. Still, Rove did not reveal to investigators that he spoke with Novak before his column was published, the lawyers said.

Fitzgerald has been working tirelessly over the past two weeks examining Rove's grand jury testimony and interviews Rove had with the FBI to determine if there is evidence that Rove knowingly made false statements to officials investigating the case, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, is laboring to convince Fitzgerald that any information related to Plame's outing that Rove may have not been forthcoming about was the result of an innocent bout of forgetfulness on the part of his client. Luskin has spoken to Fitzgerald at least once over the phone about Rove's legal position since Libby's indictment, the attorneys said.

Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn said he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation or whether there would be any public announcement when the probe is completed.

According to the attorneys close to the case, the chips are still stacked against Rove, unless he decides to cut a deal before the probe wraps up. Fitzgerald is also investigating whether Rove withheld another important element from investigators during that very first interview on Oct. 8, 2003, and from the grand jury during the three times he testified: that he'd had a conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper-on background-about Plame-Wilson just three months earlier.

It would be nearly a year after Rove was questioned by the FBI in October 2003 that his attorney, Robert Luskin, contacted Fitzgerald to say that Rove had recalled the conversation he'd had with Cooper about Plame-Wilson and her husband, Joseph. It was only after Cooper had been forced to testify about his conversation with Rove this past summer that Rove recalled the interview, even though the conversation had taken place just three months before the October 2003 interview with the FBI.

*************

(C) 2005 Jason Leopold

Jason Leopold is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie, to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books http://www.processmediainc.com . Visit Leopold's website at www.jasonleopold.com for updates.


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