Appearing for a fifth time before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case, White House adviser Karl Rove on Wednesday was questioned extensively about contradictions between his sworn testimony and that of Time magazine writer Matthew Cooper on the substance of their July 2003 conversation regarding then-agency operative Valerie Plame, according to attorneys involved in the case.
Much of the questioning of Rove on Wednesday focused on contradictions between Cooper's and Rove's accounts of their crucial July 11 conversation.
In several hours of testimony, Rove was again asked how he learned three years ago that Plame worked for the CIA, and the circumstances of how he relayed that information to Cooper, according to people familiar with his testimony.
Rove also testified to the grand jury that when he told Cooper that Plame worked at the agency, he was only passing along unverified gossip.
In contrast, Cooper has testified that Rove told him in a phone conversation on July 11, 2003, that Plame worked for the CIA and played a role in having the agency select her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, to make a fact-finding trip to Niger in 2002.
Cooper has also testified that Rove, as well as a second source -- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney -- portrayed the information about Plame as accurate and authoritative. Cooper has testified that based on his conversations with Rove and Libby, he felt confident enough about the information to identify Plame as a CIA officer in a July 17 Time story.
It has been widely reported that Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fizgerald has been trying to determine whether Rove tried to mislead the FBI and the grand jury in the early stages of the leak probe when he failed to disclose that he had talked to Cooper about Plame three days before she was outed as a CIA officer. But it has not been previously known that much of the questioning of Rove on Wednesday also focused on the contradictions between Cooper's and Rove's accounts of their crucial July 11 conversation.
Rove did not disclose the conversation with Cooper when he was first interviewed in the early stages of the leak probe by the FBI in October 2003, and again during his first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004. Later, Rove voluntarily returned to the grand jury and testified about the Cooper conversation, saying he had forgotten about it in his earlier statements to the FBI and in his first grand jury appearance.
The outing of Plame was part of a broad effort by the Bush administration in the first half of 2003 to discredit Wilson, a vocal administration critic who charged that the president and others in his administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq.
Wilson had been dispatched in 2002 on a CIA-sponsored overseas mission to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger. Wilson reported back to the agency that the allegation was mostly likely unfounded; however, in his State of the Union address in January 2003, President Bush stated the British government had information that Hussein did try to buy the uranium from the African nation.
To blunt the criticism, Rove and other senior administration officials mounted an intensive effort against Wilson, alleging that he had been sent to Niger only on the recommendation of his wife, Plame, an agency officer.
Last October, Libby was indicted by the grand jury in the leak case on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice as part of an alleged effort to conceal his own role, and perhaps that of other Bush administration officials, in outing Plame as a covert officer.
Plame's identity was blown on July 14, 2003 in a column by nationally syndicated writer Robert Novak. Novak and Rove have since said that Rove was one of two sources for that column. Both men have also said they did not know of Plame's covert status.
Three days later, on July 17, Time published Cooper's article on its Web site identifying Plame as a CIA officer. Cooper has since testified and written in the magazine that it was Rove and Libby who told him that Plame worked for the CIA.
After initially not telling the FBI and federal grand jury of his conversation with Cooper, Rove formally revised his testimony during a grand jury appearance on October 15, 2004. In that testimony, Rove said he believed that he had spoken to Cooper about Plame, but still had little independent recollection of what was said.
Rove's new testimony came as a result of the discovery of a July 11 White House email that Rove had written to then-deputy National Security advisor Stephen J. Hadley in which Rove said he had spoken to Cooper about the Niger controversy.
Rove has insisted that he did not initially volunteer information to the FBI and the grand jury about his July 11 conversation with Cooper because of a faulty memory. He has said that he has so many conversations and phone calls in the course of the work day that he simply had forgotten about that conversation until the email surfaced.
Rove and his attorney, Robert Luskin, have also argued that it would have been foolhardy for Rove to lie, knowing that Cooper might someday testify against him, and that other evidence might surface showing that the two had talked about Plame.
Central to Fitzgerald's decision on whether to bring charges against Rove is whether Rove's failure to disclose his conversation with Cooper early in the investigation was because of a faulty memory, or whether he was trying to conceal the conversation.
Fordham University law school professor Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, said that Fitzgerald's decision to summon Rove before the grand jury repeatedly "reflects the importance that prosecutors-and ultimately juries-place on motive in [potential] perjury or obstruction cases."
Such cases are typically difficult to bring, Richman said, because "in many instances you almost have to literally take the jury inside a defendant's head... to demonstrate their intent."
The fact that Rove voluntarily returned to the grand jury to testify about his conversation with Cooper might "prove to be an obstacle to any [potential] obstruction or perjury case in that the person ultimately cooperated and told what he knew," Richman said.
But if Rove only revised his earlier statements when faced with the likelihood that he was going to be found out anyway, Richman said, that would demonstrate the crucial element of intent to a jury. "You do score points for coming in and retracting or clarifying your previous false testimony," Richman said. "But it is an entirely different case if you are doing so only out of fear that you are about to be caught."
More recently, Luskin provided evidence to prosecutors about his own contacts with another Time reporter, Viveca Novak, in an attempt to show that Rove has testified as honestly as he could to the federal grand jury.
Luskin told prosecutors that Novak told him prior to Rove's first grand jury appearance that she had heard from colleagues at Time that Rove was one of the sources for Cooper's story about Plame. Luskin in turn said that he told Rove about this, but Rove still did not disclose to the grand jury that he had ever spoken to Cooper about Plame.
On Wednesday, Rove reportedly testified to the federal grand jury that earlier he had no reason to hide that he had spoken to Cooper, if indeed he recalled the conversation, because he already knew from Luskin that Novak and others at Time were saying they had been told that Rove had been a source for Cooper. Another reason, Rove said, is that he knew Cooper might himself one day testify in the case.
In her own sworn testimony in the case, however, Novak could not pinpoint the date that she had her conversation with Luskin, telling prosecutors that she was not sure wheter it was before or after the first time Rove testified before the grand jury. In a highly unusual move, Rove waived attorney-client privilege in a limited way, so that Luskin could testify that he remembered the conversation with Novak having occurred earlier than she had.
According to legal sources familiar with Rove's testimony, Rove said that prior to talking with Cooper on July 11, 2003, he believed that he first heard that Plame worked for the CIA from a person who was a journalist, although he has also testified that he could not recall the name of the person or the circumstances of the conversation.
Rove also has testified that he spoke with Robert Novak about Plame on July 9, 2003. During that conversation, Rove has testified, Novak told him that he had heard that Plame -- referred to during the conversation only as Wilson's wife -- worked for the CIA. Because of that conversation with Novak, Rove has testified to the grand jury, he believed that Plame worked for the CIA.
Novak and Rove have both testified that in their July 9 conversation Rove briefly said that he had heard the same information about Plame that Novak had heard. But Novak has also testified that as a result of the July 9 conversation, he used Rove as a second source for his July 14 column outing Plame as an "agency operative."
"If you believe both of them, Novak was saying that Rove was his source, and Rove was saying that Novak was his source," said one person with first-hand knowlege of the grand jury accounts of both men.
Rove also testified to the grand jury that he had heard from Libby that Plame worked for the CIA. But Rove testified that Libby told him that he only heard the information as rumors being passed on to him by journalists.
Cooper has said he told the grand jury that Libby was a second source for his July 17 story reporting that Plame worked for the CIA. Libby spoke to him on July 12, one day after his conversation with Rove.
Libby testified to the grand jury, in contradiction to Cooper's testimony, that when he told Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA he was careful to say that the information was only an unsubstantiated rumor that Libby himself had first heard from others.
Regarding his conversation with Cooper, according to the indictment of Libby, he told the grand jury: "I was very clear to say reporters are telling us that because in my mind I still don't know it as fact. Later, Libby added: "And I said [to Cooper] reporters are telling us that, I don't know if it's true."
If Rove's and Libby's accounts to the grand jury are correct, journalists wrote about Plame's CIA employment even though both White House aides said the information was unsubstantiated gossip. Both reporters have said that the information was not qualified in any way, and that they believed it authoritative enough to publish.
Some journalism professors say that, in Washington, there is often a rush to print information.
"Much of what passes for news in Washington is very hurried leaks from officials in power, whether in a corridor conversation or a thirty second phone call," said Mark Feldstein, a former investigative correspondent for CNN, who is currently a professor of journalism at George Washington University. "And the media is far too credulous of accepting the word of Washington officialdom when it comes to self-serving leaks or publishing self-serving information."
Geneva Overholser, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri, former chair of the Pulitzer Prize board, and former editor of the Des Moines Register, went even further, questioning whether columnist Novak should have used Karl Rove as a source that Plame worked for the CIA based on brief comments that Rove made that he simply heard the same information that Novak did.
-- Previous coverage of pre-war intelligence and the CIA leak investigation from Murray Waas.