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FBI Suspected Rove and Libby Pre-Fitzgerald

FBI Suspected Rove and Libby Pre-Fitzgerald

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

Wednesday 06 September 2006

A couple of months before Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor to find out who told journalists that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative, Justice Department officials working under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft told Ashcroft that two senior White House officials may have lied to FBI investigators - a felony - when they were first questioned about their role in the leak in October 2003, according to numerous published reports and court documents.

FBI investigators first suspected that Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, and White House political adviser Karl Rove lied when they were asked about how they came to learn that Plame worked for the CIA and whether they shared her affiliation with the agency with reporters.

"The suspicion that someone may have lied to investigators is based on contradictions between statements by various witnesses in FBI interviews," according to an April 2, 2004, report in the New York Times. "The conflicts are said to be buttressed by documents, including memos, e-mail messages and phone records turned over by the White House."

The notion that Rove and Libby may have lied to the FBI has been widely reported at least a dozen times during the course of the three-year-old investigation.

Lying to federal investigators is a felonious crime. Just ask Martha Stewart, who spent six months in a federal penitentiary, not because she was found guilty of insider trading, which is what prosecutors had initially set out to prove, but because she lied to FBI investigators when she was questioned about the circumstances surrounding her suspicious stock trades.

Whether Rove and Libby deceived investigators is being revisited because of recent news reports that have suggested they are innocent victims of an overzealous prosecutor. Reports published over the past two weeks have identified former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, a "moderate" who dissented from Bush's Iraq plans, as the administration official who is said to have first leaked Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Some editorials have opined that the revelation that Armitage was supposedly Novak's primary source clears Rove and Libby of potential wrongdoing in the matter.

Rove spoke to Novak about Plame the same day Armitage did, and there has not been documentary proof to show that Armitage's conversation with Novak preceded Rove's.

Fueling the debate surrounding Rove and Libby's supposed innocence have been new assertions from right-wing pundits that Plame was never truly a covert CIA operative when her identity was leaked and as such the investigation was a sham from its genesis in September 2003.

That theory, however, is factually flawed and contradicted by a February 15, 2005, opinion by Judge David Tatel,of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who wrote that Plame had in the past five years conducted "covert work overseas" on counter-proliferation matters and that the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity.

"As to the leaks' harmfulness, although the record omits specifics about Plame's work, it appears to confirm, as alleged in the public record and reported in the press, that she worked for the CIA in some unusual capacity relating to counterproliferation," Tatel's opinion says. "The special counsel refers to Plame as 'a person whose identity the CIA was making specific efforts to conceal and who had carried out covert work overseas within the last 5 years' - representations I trust the special counsel would not make without support."

As to why the leak investigation has dragged on for more than three years, look no further than Rove and Libby, whose misleading statements to investigators are what ultimately led to Ashcroft's recusal and forced Fitzgerald to shift the probe toward an obstruction of justice and perjury inquiry in early February 2004.

Libby had initially told FBI investigators and a grand jury months later that he discovered Plame's CIA status from Tim Russert, host of "Meet the Press." But evidence FBI agents obtained early on contradicted Libby's sworn statements to investigators.

"One set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser," the New York Times reported in a February 10, 2004, story.

The notes showed that Libby found out about Plame in May and June 2003, long before he spoke to Russert.

"Prosecutors have described the notes as "copious," the lawyers said, according to the Times report.

Still, as early as October 2003, a little more than two months before Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor, FBI investigators told Ashcroft they did not believe Rove and Libby were being truthful when they were questioned about their role in the leak.

According to an investigative report in June in the National Journal, senior Justice Department officials told Ashcroft that the FBI had uncovered evidence that Libby.had misled the bureau about his role in the leaking of Plame's identity to the press."

The report added that the FBI told Ashcroft in November 2003 that "investigators also doubted the accounts that Rove had given the FBI as to how he, too, learned that Plame was a CIA officer and how he came to disclose that information to columnist Robert Novak."

There was also suspicion among FBI investigators that in September 2003 Novak and Rove conspired to devise a cover story to protect Rove from being found out as one of the senior administration officials who was a source for Novak's July 14, 2003, column that exposed Plame's CIA covert status, the National Journal reported.

That allegation may be the reason that Rove reportedly lied when he told FBI investigators on October 8, 2003, that the first time he disclosed Plame's identity and CIA status to other journalists was after Novak's column was published.

The veracity of Rove's testimony and his involvement in the leak came under scrutiny in the summer of 2005, when an email Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper sent to his editor was leaked to the media. The email proved that Rove discussed Plame prior to the publication of Novak's column. Moreover, the email revealed that Rove was a source for a story Cooper wrote about Plame on July 17, 2003.

"It was, KR said, [former Ambassador Joseph] Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized [Wilson's] trip," says Cooper's July 11, 2003, email. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.)


Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.

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