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Fitzgerald Maintains Focus on Rove
By Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | www.truthout.org
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is said to have spent the past month preparing evidence he will present to a grand jury alleging that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove knowingly made false statements to FBI and Justice Department investigators and lied under oath while he was being questioned about his role in the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity more than two years ago, according to sources knowledgeable about the probe.
Although there have not been rumblings regarding Fitzgerald's probe into the Plame leak since he met with the grand jury hearing evidence in the case more than a month ago, the sources said that Fitzgerald has been quietly building his case against Rove and has been interviewing witnesses, in some cases for the second and third time, who have provided him with information related to Rove's role in the leak. It is unclear when Fitzgerald is expected to meet with the grand jury again.
Fitzgerald has been investigating whether officials in the Bush administration broke the law and blew Plame's cover as a way to retaliate against her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a staunch critic of the administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence.
According to sources, Fitzgerald had planned to meet with the grand jury several times last month, hoping to wrap up the case specifically as it relates to Rove's involvement. But the prosecutor, who empanelled a second grand jury in November and whose term expires in 18 months, had his hands full dealing with another high-profile criminal case he is prosecuting involving Lord Conrad Black, owner of several major metropolitan newspapers, who was indicted on charges including racketeering.
Moreover, several members of the grand jury had questions involving Rove's prior testimony before the previous grand jury on four separate occasions and had requested additional information about the testimony and about the overall case, these sources said, leading to a delay in the proceedings so Fitzgerald could provide that information.
Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, said in a brief interview Monday that he has not heard anything about the grand jury requesting additional information about Rove and is unaware that Fitzgerald has been building a case against his client.
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, said he could not comment on grand jury proceedings because they are secret. However, Luskin said that Rove's status has not changed since the indictment against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, was indicted in late October on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements related to his role in the Plame leak.
"I think it's fair to say that there is no change in [Rove's] status. He is not a target of the investigation, but there remains an open investigation," Luskin said.
But sources knowledgeable about the case against Rove say that he was offered a plea deal in December and that Luskin had twice met with Fitzgerald during that time to discuss Rove's legal status. Rove turned down the plea deal, which would likely have required him to provide Fitzgerald with information against other officials who were involved in Plame's outing as well as testifying against those people, the sources said.
Luskin would neither confirm nor deny that a meeting with Fitzgerald took place last month. "I am simply not going to comment on whether I was or wasn't talking to Mr. Fitzgerald," Luskin said. "I am not acknowledging that it did or didn't happen, I am just saying that I have never commented about that before and I am not going to start doing that now."
Rove has remained under intense scrutiny by Fitzgerald's office for several months. During that time Fitzgerald, according to sources, has acquired evidence suggesting that Rove tried to cover up his role in the leak by withholding crucial facts from investigators and the grand jury, during his three previous appearances beginning in October 2003, about a conversation he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
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 in 2003, Rove said he first learned Plame Wilson's name from reporters - specifically, from Novak's column - and that only after her name was published did he discuss Plame Wilson's CIA status with other journalists. That sequence of events, however, has turned out not to be true, and Rove's reasons for not being forthcoming have not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove had a momentary lapse, according to sources - particularly because Rove was a primary source for Novak and Cooper and failed to disclose this fact when he was first questioned by FBI and Justice Department investigators just three months after Plame's identity was leaked.
Luskin 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.
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 investigation, and is a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.