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Last Question is Obstruction for Fitzgerald, Rove

Last Question is Obstruction for Fitzgerald, Rove

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Sunday 07 April 2006

Hundreds of pages of emails and memos "discovered" by the White House in February and turned over to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald show that Karl Rove played a much larger role in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case than he had previously disclosed to a grand jury and FBI investigators.

In February, TruthOut was the first to report the existence of the 250 pages of emails from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Office of the President that were written in mid-2003.

Some of the emails and memos were written by Rove, and are part of a growing body of evidence suggesting he lied to the grand jury and the FBI and may have obstructed justice during the course of the investigation. It was following their disclosure that Fitzgerald advised Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, several weeks ago that he intends to indict Rove for perjury and lying to investigators. The lingering question, sources close to the case said, is whether Fitzgerald will add obstruction of justice to the list of charges that he has already drafted against Rove.

News reports over the past two years about Rove's legal troubles have centered on the fact that Rove allegedly failed to disclose to Fitzgerald and the grand jury a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in July 2003 about Plame Wilson and her husband, Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson, and an email Rove sent to then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about his conversation with Cooper.

While that issue continues to be a central focus in the case against Rove, what has not been previously reported is the fact that there are dozens of other memos and emails Rove sent to White House officials in June 2003, including former Chief of Staff Andrew Card, in which Rove suggests the White House launch a full scale public relations effort to attack Joseph Wilson for speaking out against the administration.

Rove did not disclose the communications when he was questioned by FBI investigators in 2003 and during his subsequent grand jury appearances, sources familiar with his testimony said. Some of those emails and memos recently discovered by the White House mention Valerie Plame Wilson's employment with the CIA.

According to sources close to the case, the emails also contained suggestions by Rove, and by senior officials in Vice President Dick Cheney's office and at the National Security Council, on how the White House should respond to what it believed were increasingly destructive comments Wilson had been making about the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence.

Fitzgerald disclosed in court documents in January that he discovered from witnesses in the case that some emails related to Wilson and his wife, written by senior aides in Cheney's office and sent to other officials at the National Security Council, had not been turned over to investigators by the White House.

"In an abundance of caution," Fitzgerald's January 23 letter to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's defense team states, "we advise you that we have learned that not all email of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system."

Sources close to the case said that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales withheld numerous emails from Fitzgerald's probe, citing "executive privilege" and "national security" concerns. These sources said that as of Friday, May 5, there were still some emails that had not been turned over to Fitzgerald because they contain classified information in addition to references about the Wilsons.

While some news accounts over the past 10 days have reported that Rove's fifth appearance before the grand jury two weeks ago was to clear up testimony as to why he failed to disclose his conversation with Cooper and the email he sent to Hadley afterward, according to sources the bulk of Rove's testimony centered on why he had not disclosed the emails and memos and the larger role he played in the campaign to smear Wilson's reputation.

Rove's answer to those questions was succinct and consistent with answers he gave to similar questions during previous testimonies over the past two years: he said he forgot and at the time had turned his attention to more important White House matters such as Bush's re-election campaign, sources knowledgeable about his testimony said.

Fitzgerald started to build a perjury and obstruction of justice case against Rove and Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, in April 2004. Libby was indicted last year on those very charges.

Within two months of taking over the probe in December 2003, Fitzgerald and his team of investigators secured sworn testimony from 36 Bush administration officials, obtained thousands of pages of Plame Wilson related documents from the White House, and discovered the identity of the Bush administration official responsible for the leak.

The identity of that individual remains a closely guarded secret. And it's unknown whether the official was ever in any danger of being charged with a crime for blowing Plame Wilson's cover.

In order to be charged with violating the 1982 law that makes it a felony to disclose an undercover CIA operative's identity, the person responsible for unmasking the agent must be aware that the agent's status was classified. It's possible the official who leaked Plame Wilson's status to the media was unaware of that fact and testified truthfully about it.

But something Fitzgerald found buried in those emails, phone logs, calendars, and computer hard drives his staff obtained from the White House, as well as information contained in the hundreds of pages of transcripts of testimony from witnesses, forced the special counsel to shift gears in April 2004.

Fitzgerald started to focus on peripheral charges against Rove when it became clear that there were serious contradictions in the documents Fitzgerald obtained and sworn statements made by White House officials during the first three-months of the investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department.

The hard evidence Fitzgerald secured early on told a far different story about how Rove learned Plame Wilson was employed by the CIA than the narrative Rove gave during his two appearances before the grand jury in February 2004, sources close to the case said.

Rove admitted to FBI investigators and testified twice before a grand jury that he distributed damaging information about Plame Wilson and her husband to the Republican National Committee, outside political consultants and the media but did so only after Plame Wilson's name and employment status was published, according to attorneys who are familiar with Rove's testimony.

But the newly discovered emails and memos show that Rove was involved in a campaign to discredit Wilson and his wife more than a month before her name was published in a newspaper column.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, was traveling and would not be returning to Washington until Tuesday. His office said he would have no comment but may decide otherwise after he reads this story.

In addition to defending Rove, Luskin is a witness in the leak case. A week before Libby was indicted last October, Fitzgerald informed Luskin that Rove was a target of the probe - meaning there was enough evidence to link Rove to a crime - and that he would seek an indictment against him on perjury charges based on the fact that Rove did not disclose to the grand jury that he was a source for Time's Cooper and that he had sent an email to Hadley about his short conversation with Cooper.

Luskin saved Rove from an indictment two days before the grand jury returned an indictment against Libby. Luskin provided Fitzgerald with the back story as to how he helped his client recall his conversation with Cooper in July 2003, and in doing so Luskin became a witness in the case and gave a sworn deposition to Fitzgerald last year.

Luskin revealed to Fitzgerald that Viveca Novak - a reporter working for Time magazine who wrote several stories about the Plame Wilson case - inadvertently tipped him off in early 2004 that her colleague at the magazine, Matt Cooper, would be forced to testify that Rove was his source who told him about Plame Wilson's CIA status.

Novak - who is of no relation to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who first published Plame Wilson's name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003, column - met Luskin in Washington, DC, in 2004, and over drinks, the two discussed Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame Wilson leak.

Luskin assured Novak that Rove learned Plame Wilson's name and CIA status after it was published in news accounts and that only then did he phone other journalists to draw their attention to it. But Novak told Luskin that everyone in the Time newsroom knew Rove was Cooper's source and that he would testify to that in an upcoming grand jury appearance, these sources said.

According to Luskin's account, after he met with Viveca Novak he contacted Rove and told him about his conversation with her. The two of them then began an exhaustive search through White House phone logs and emails for any evidence that proved that Rove had spoken with Cooper. Luskin said that during this search an email was found that Rove sent to Hadley immediately and it was subsequently turned over to Fitzgerald. Luskin must still be cleared by Fitzgerald for his role in the case as a witness.

There are conflicting stories about when Luskin and Novak met and when she tipped him off about Rove being Cooper's source. Novak testified that she told Luskin about Rove being Cooper's source in either January or May 2004 - guessing it was likely in May. Luskin testified that it was between October 2003 and February 2004.

Rove testified last week that he still couldn't recall speaking to Cooper.


Jason Leopold spent 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 t.

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