Jason Leopold: Fitzgerald Targets Rove Again
Fitzgerald Targets Rove Again
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report
Monday 28 November 2005
Continuing his two-year-old investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a covert CIA agent, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will present evidence to a second grand jury this week that could lead to a criminal indictment being handed up against Karl Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, sources inside the investigation said over the weekend.
For the past month, Rove has remained under intense scrutiny by Fitzgerald's office. During that time Fitzgerald, according to these sources, has acquired evidence that Rove tried to cover up his role in the leak by withholding crucial facts from investigators and the grand jury on three separate occasions, beginning in October 2003, about a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, as well as not being truthful about the reasons that call was not logged by his office.
Rove's conversation with Cooper took place a week or so before Plame Wilson's identity was first revealed, in a July 14, 2003, column published by conservative journalist Robert Novak. Cooper had written his own story about Plame Wilson a few days later.
During previous testimony before the grand jury, Rove said he first learned Plame Wilson's name from reporters - specifically, from Novak's column - and only after her name was published did he discuss Plame Wilson's CIA status with other journalists. That sequence of events, however, as described by Rove during his grand jury testimony, has turned out not to be true, and his reasons for not being forthcoming have not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove had a momentary lapse, according to sources.
Still, Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, maintains that his client has not intentionally withheld facts from the prosecutor or the grand jury but had simply forgotten about his conversations with Cooper, the sources said.
Luskin would not return calls for comment.
Fitzgerald will present evidence to the grand jury later this week, obtained from other witnesses who were interviewed by the Special Prosecutor or who testified, showing that Rove lied during the three times he testified under oath and that he made misleading statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators in an attempt to cover up his role in the leak when he was first interviewed about it in October 2003, the sources said.
The most serious charges Rove faces are making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice, the sources said. He does not appear to be in jeopardy of violating the law making it a crime to leak the name of a covert CIA agent, because it's unlikely that Rove was aware that Plame Wilson was undercover, the sources said.
However, according to the sources, two things are very clear: either Rove will agree to enter into a plea deal with Fitzgerald or he will be charged with a crime, but he will not be exonerated for the role he played in the leak, based on numerous internal conversations Fitzgerald has had with his staff. If Rove does agree to enter into a plea, Fitzgerald is not expected to discuss any aspect of his probe into Rove, because Rove may be called to testify as a prosecution witness against Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was indicted last month on five counts of lying to investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice related to his role in the leak.
Moreover, a second high-ranking official in the Bush administration also faces the possibility of indictment for making false statements to investigators about his role in the leak: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Hadley had been interviewed in 2004 about his role in the leak and had vehemently denied speaking to reporters about Plame Wilson, the sources said. However, these sources have identified Hadley as sharing information about Plame Wilson with Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, whose stunning revelation two weeks ago - that he was the first journalist to learn of Plame Wilson's identity in mid-June 2003 and had kept that fact secret for two years - led Fitzgerald to return to a second grand jury. A spokeswoman at the National Security Council denied that Hadley was Woodward's source. Hadley, on the other hand, would neither confirm nor deny that he was Woodward's source when he was questioned by reporters two weeks ago. Woodward testified two weeks ago about what he knew and when he knew it. Woodward would not publicly reveal the identity of his source.
Rove had emailed Hadley following the conversation he had with Cooper in July 2003 regarding former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger to investigate allegations Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country, which President Bush had referred to in his January 2003 State of the Union address, and which many critics believe was the silver bullet that convinced the American public and Congress to support a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
Wilson, who is married to Plame Wilson, was a critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence. It was during Rove's conversation with Cooper that Wilson's CIA agent wife was discussed with the reporter, in an attempt to discredit Wilson and dissuade him from continuing to criticize the administration's rationale for war.
Earlier this month, the sources said, Fitzgerald received additional testimony from Rove's former personal assistant, Susan B. Ralston, who was also a special assistant to President Bush. Ralston said that Rove instructed her not to log a phone call Rove had with Cooper about Plame Wilson in July 2003.
Ralston previously worked as a personal secretary to Jack Abramoff, the Republican power lobbyist being investigated for allegations of defrauding Indian tribes and who was recently indicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges. While working with Abramoff, Ralston arranged fundraisers and events at Washington MCI Center skyboxes for members of Congress. Ralston communicated with Rove on Abramoff's behalf on tribal affairs, though she is not accused of wrongdoing.
Ralston provided Fitzgerald with more information and some "clarification" about several telephone calls Rove allegedly made to a few reporters, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak, lawyers close to the investigation say.
Ralston testified in August that Cooper's name was not noted in the call logs from Rove's office, those familiar with the case say, testifying that because Cooper's call was transferred to Rove's office from the White House switchboard it was not logged. If Cooper had called Rove's office directly, the call would have been logged, Ralston testified.
But sources say that Fitzgerald has obtained documentary evidence proving that that scenario does not jibe with other unrelated calls to Rove's office that were also transferred to his office by the switchboard but were logged.
As Rove's senior adviser, Ralston screened Rove's calls. Her additional testimony may help Fitzgerald prove that there were inconsistencies in Rove's account of his role in the leak and assess why he withheld a crucial fact from the prosecutor: that Rove had spoken with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper as well as Novak about Plame and confirmed that she was an undercover CIA agent.
Viveca Novak wrote about the Plame leak for the first time in October 2004, when Time magazine posted a story on its web site about Rove's testimony before the grand jury for the third time. So it's unclear why Fitzgerald is suddenly interested in questioning her. But her upcoming testimony proves that Fitzgerald is keeping the pressure on Rove.
Jason Leopoldspent two years covering
California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief
of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year
cultivating sources close to the CIA leak invesigation, and
will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u