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An Unlikely Story

Karl Rove's alibi would be easier to believe if he hadn't hidden it from FBI investigators in 2003.
By Murray Waas
American Prospect Web Exclusive: 07.19.05

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed CIA officer Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper during Rove’s first interview with the FBI, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The omission by Rove created doubt for federal investigators, almost from the inception of their criminal probe into who leaked Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak, as to whether Rove was withholding crucial information from them, and perhaps even misleading or lying to them, the sources said.

Also leading to the early skepticism of Rove's accounts was the claim that although he first heard that Plame worked for the CIA from a journalist, he said could not recall the name of the journalist. Later, the sources said, Rove wavered even further, saying he was not sure at all where he first heard the information.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, has said that Rove never knew that Plame was a covert officer when he discussed her CIA employment with reporters, and that he only first learned of her clandestine status when he read about it in the newspaper. Luskin did not return a telephone call today seeking comment for this story.

If recently disclosed press accounts of conversations that Rove had with reporters are correct, Novak and Rove first spoke about Plame on July 8, 2003. It was three days later, on July 11, that Rove also spoke about Plame to Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper. Three days after that, on July 14, Novak's column appeared in which he identified Plame as an "agency operative." According to Novak's account, it was he, not Rove, who first broached the issue of Plame's employment with the CIA, and that Rove at most simply said that he, too, had heard much the same information.

Novak's column came during a period of time when senior White House officials were attempting to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was then asserting that the Bush administration had relied on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. Wilson had only recently led a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was covertly attempting to buy enriched uranium from the African nation to build a nuclear weapon. Wilson reported back that the claims were most likely the result of a hoax. But President Bush had still cited them during a State of the Union address as evidence that Hussein had an aggressive program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

In the column, Novak called Plame an "agency operative," thus identifying her as a covert CIA agent. But Novak has since claimed that his use of the phrase "agency operative" was a formulation of his own, and that he did not know, or mean to tell his readers, that she had a covert status with the agency.

Rove, too, has told federal investigators he did not know that Plame had a covert status with the CIA when he spoke with Novak, and Cooper, about Plame.

The distinction as to whether Rove specifically knew Plame’s status has been central to the investigation of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; under the law, a government official can only be prosecuted if he or she knew of a person's covert status and "that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent."

But investigators were also skeptical of Novak's claim that his use of the term "operative" was a journalistic miscue because it appeared to provide legal protection for whoever his source or sources were. And although Novak's and Rove's accounts of their conversations regarding Plame were largely consistent, they appeared to be self-serving.

It has been, in large part, for all of these reasons that Fitzgerald so zealously sought the testimony of reporters Cooper and Judith Miller of The New York Times, according to sources sympathetic to Fitzgerald. Cooper testified to Fitzgerald's grand jury last week, after earlier having been found in civil contempt for refusing to do so. In contrast, Miller has refused to testify, and is currently serving a sentence in an Alexandria, Virginia, jail.

Finally, also driving Fitzgerald's investigation has been Rove's assertions that he only found out about Plame's status with the CIA from a journalist -- and one whose name he does not recall. But as The New York Times first disclosed on July 16, senior Bush administration officials first learned that Plame worked for the CIA from a classified briefing paper on July 7, 2003, exactly a week before Novak's column naming Plame appeared and at the time that senior Bush administration officials were devising a strategy to discredit Wilson.

The classified memorandum, dated June 10, 2003, was written by Marc Grossman, then the undersecretary of state for political affairs, and reportedly made claims similar to those made by Wilson: that the Bush administration had relied on faulty intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Hussein to make the case to go to war with Iraq. The report was circulated to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and a slew of other senior administration officials who were then traveling with President Bush to Africa.

Fitzgerald has focused on whether Rove might have learned of Plame's identity from one of the many senior White House officials who read the memo, according to the Times account and attorneys whose clients have testified before the federal grand jury.

Murray Waas is an investigative reporter. He will be reporting further about the Plame grand jury on his blog, Whatever Already.

Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Murray Waas, "An Unlikely Story", The American Prospect Online, Jul 19, 2005. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to


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I know this is a bit off topic, but folks who pay attention to this site should know the truth about what Bush's selection for the Supreme Court is all about:

I agree that Robertson is a bad pick for those who care about women's rights, and separation of church and state, among other things, and I am one of those people. However, Bush and his pals are very obviously using the nomination to distract people from the real issues in the White House. I am sure that we can all focus on more than one issue at a time, but I already see and hear the MSM slipping back into kid glove mode with the Bush White House. All last night the only thing any of the MSM could talk about was the nomination. Today, the only thing NPR wants to cover is the nomination. Yes, it is an important issue, but it is hardly as important as our President and his advisors lying to us and to Congress to start a war. The most important thing for those of us who want the White House lies to come out to do right now is to keep the pressure on the MSM to cover the DSM, and to a lesser extent the Rove story. I am outraged that such a conservative could be nominated for a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land, but it pales in comparison to my outrage at this administration for lying, and my outrage at the Republican controlled Congress for sitting on their thumbs about it.

I just had a lengthy discussion with my 93 year old mother re: the latest pick for the Supreme Court. She still lives on her own, has a college degree, reads constantly fiction and nonfiction, plays bridge, works crosswords...very sharp lady.

She is not happy with the choice (neither am I) simply due to women's rights. She has long thought men keep women down with legislation. I wonder where we would be in this if some type of legislation were pushed on men regarding their reproductive organ and what they are allowed to do with it!

She feels this man will be out of touch with the common people. He is very wealthy and has always lived a life of privilege.

Mom also feels we had no business going into Iraq and could give you history of the middle east that would shame the neoCONS.

I believe if RvsW is overturned women will ban together and find other ways to help each other, even if it means a foundation with funds to help women fly to other countries.

I am from a state that has a very very high percentage of child death due to parental abuse...every time I read of another death I think....what kind of right to life was that child given?

I am lucky to have a mother that taught us to think for ourselves and a husband who also encourages the same....

Just wanted to pass along the thoughts of someone well into her 90's that is a strong advocate for women!

I'm glad to hear that your mother is still functioning so well and on her own at that age; we should all be so lucky. She is right that Robertson will be (is) out of touch with mainstream America. I don't remember where I saw it, but recently I saw a poll showing really strong support for Roe v. Wade, and I think that if anything is done to try and overturn it there would be major political fallout for the Right. That doesn't mean they won't try given the chance, and that sickens me. I don't think that any man (or woman for that matter) has any right to say to any woman what to do with her body. My question to right to lifers is simple. "What does it matter to you what someone else does with their body?

I share your fears and concerns. However, I was suprised to learn of this nomination- I expected far worse! Typically, this administration would intentionally pick the worst possible nominee so that there would be a huge outcry, the bigger the better, enabling them to "prove" the partisan obstructionist techniques of the opposition,having the added bonus of creating such a colossal congressional battle that it's sure to dominate the media for a LONG,LONG time...relegating DSM, Rove,Iraq,etc. to page 17 (at best)

It reminds me of the Beatles song Dr. Roberts about a drug pusher. This is one pill we don't want to swallow!

Yeah, I was a little surprised too, but from what I have been able to gather so far, Robertson was about as far out to the Right that Bush and Co. thought that they could get away with. Either way, they have pushed DSM, Rove, Iraq back in the news... for now. I don't think this has the lasting impact that the administration is looking for though. There are far too many questions unanswered, and I am hoping that with the anniversary events planned for this weekend, that the DSM gets kicked up to the next level of public awareness. I guess only time will tell.

It's all of a piece. Don't let them change the subject.

Sigh.....I read it...sigh...what did we ever do to have this put on us...Bush will probably get to appoint another one too soon....Of all people Bush making appointments to the Supreme Court.

I lost a great deal of respect for the court especially after the 2000 election...they turned political big time. Look what they did for our country. Sad Sad Sad

It is all so much about control and power isn't it...

Can't you just see them running for cover ,,it gives me a good laugh.

It is absolutely not one person's business what goes on between a physician and patient...and not one person will ever dictate to me what I can and can't do with my body....And another thing that just burns me (and I have sent e-mails telling them) are discussions on T.V. and radio regarding abortion and abortion rights and too often not one woman is on the panel. All men talking about our rights...yuk!

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