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A Twist in the Rove-Plame Mystery

By Robert Parry
December 4, 2005

Defenders of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove are citing a conversation in early 2004 between Rove’s lawyer and a Time magazine reporter as new evidence that Rove didn’t commit perjury when he initially denied that he told another Time reporter about a CIA officer’s identity in mid-2003.

But this pro-Rove argument is a curious one, since the facts about the 2004 conversation would seem to buttress the case against Rove, not exonerate him.

The available evidence now suggests that Rove did lie to a federal grand jury – even after his lawyer got the warning in early 2004 – and that Rove only admitted the initial contact with the Time reporter when documentary evidence surfaced nine months later.

What is most striking about the early 2004 conversation is that it appears that even after Time reporter Viveca Novak alerted Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin that Rove had passed on information about CIA officer Valerie Plame to Time reporter Matthew Cooper, Rove still claimed to have no recollection when he testified before a federal grand jury in February 2004.

Only in October 2004, when Luskin discovered an e-mail from Rove to deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, recounting the Rove-Cooper conversation in June 2003, did Rove change his grand jury testimony to admit that he had told Cooper about Plame’s identity, according to a Washington Post chronology.

Citing a “person familiar with the case,” the Post reported that Viveca “Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection before Rove’s first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004. In that appearance, Rove testified that he did not recall talking to Cooper about Plame. It was not until October 2004 that Rove told the grand jury that he recalled the Cooper chat.” [Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2005]

Stonewall

It’s still unclear why Rove would have thought he could stonewall the grand jury about the Cooper conversation in February 2004 if Rove’s lawyer Luskin already knew about it from Novak. Rove might have expected that Time magazine would successfully resist the demands from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for Cooper’s testimony.

According to that scenario, Rove would have finally told the grand jury on Oct. 15, 2004, about the Cooper conversation only after the documentary evidence was unequivocal and it was clear Fitzgerald was serious about forcing journalists to testify. In the days before Rove’s reversal, Fitzgerald subpoenaed Cooper, and Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan issued a contempt citation demanding Cooper’s appearance before the grand jury.

So, one interpretation of the timeline is that Rove did recall his June 2003 chat with Cooper – and was reminded again by the Novak-Luskin conversation – but still denied the facts in his first grand jury appearance because he assumed that Fitzgerald would back off when journalists refused to testify. That has often been the case in the past. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Dissing Fitzgerald & Prosecutorial Politics.”]

Upon realizing that Fitzgerald was determined to secure Cooper’s testimony and was getting support from the federal bench, Rove may have judged that he had little choice but to rush back to the grand jury to correct his testimony, hoping that his claim of a faulty memory might still be plausible.

So, the new revelation that Rove’s attorney had been alerted to the Rove-Cooper conversation in early 2004 – and presumably discussed that information with his client – would seem to bolster the case against Rove. Nevertheless, Rove’s backers are citing the Novak-Luskin contact as somehow exculpatory for Rove.

In October 2005, Luskin reportedly mentioned the Novak conversation to Fitzgerald to dissuade him from indicting Rove as the first grand jury was completing its term. Rove’s defenders then were encouraged when Fitzgerald only indicted vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby on charges of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.

Some pro-Rove commentators pointed to Fitzgerald’s failure to indict Rove as evidence that George W. Bush’s chief political adviser had escaped legal jeopardy. But Fitzgerald has since impaneled a new grand jury and is expected to call Viveca Novak to testify in the coming days.

Bad News

An indictment of Rove would be very bad news for President Bush, who would then see the Plame case inching ever closer to the Oval Office.

Already, the emerging evidence has linked Vice President Dick Cheney to the leak case. The New York Times reported that more than a month before Plame was outed in a July 14, 2003, column by conservative writer Robert Novak, the vice president was told about Plame’s identity by then-CIA Director George Tenet.

At the time, Cheney was angry that Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was challenging a chief rationale for the invasion of Iraq. Wilson was telling reporters that he had been sent by the CIA to check out reports of Iraq trying to buy enriched uranium from Niger and had concluded that the claims were false.

But the White House still used the Niger allegations in making its terrifying case that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was on course to build a nuclear bomb.

After Wilson began to blow the whistle in the months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Tenet divulged to Cheney that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and had a hand in arranging Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger – information that Cheney then passed on to Libby in a conversation on June 12, 2003, according to Libby’s notes as described by lawyers in the case, the New York Times reported. [NYT, Oct. 25, 2005]

Those two facts – Plame’s work for the CIA and her role in Wilson’s Niger trip – then became the centerpieces of the administration’s behind-the-scenes campaign in June/July 2003 to disparage Wilson. Rove, Libby and other administration officials told journalists that Wilson’s wife had helped get him the Niger assignment.

On July 14, 2003, Robert Novak’s column, citing two administration sources, outed Plame and portrayed Wilson’s Niger trip as a case of nepotism. (Robert Novak and Viveca Novak are not related.)

Furious that Plame’s covert identity had been blown, CIA officers pressed Tenet to refer the case to the Justice Department to determine whether the disclosure violated a law barring the willful exposure of a CIA officer. An investigation was soon launched.

Responding to the initial inquiries, Libby and Rove reportedly suggested they may have heard about Plame’s CIA job from reporters and just recycled the rumors. But Fitzgerald’s investigation discovered that the White House officials had clued reporters in on Plame’s identity, not vice versa.

Fitzgerald has so far obtained a five-count indictment against Libby. Now, Viveca Novak’s testimony could help determine whether the prosecutor is convinced that the case against Rove is ripe for grand jury charges, too.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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