Rove, Libby Accounts on Plame Differ With Reporters' (Update2)
July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Two top White House aides have given accounts to a special prosecutor about how reporters first told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said, according to people familiar with the case.
Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, one person said. Russert has testified before Fitzgerald that he didn't tell Libby of Plame's identity, the person said.
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak, according to a person familiar with the matter. Novak, who was first to report Plame's name and connection to Wilson, has given a somewhat different version to the special prosecutor, the person said.
These discrepancies may be important because Fitzgerald is investigating whether Libby, Rove or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation. The Plame case has its genesis in whether anyone violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert intelligence agent.
The CIA requested the inquiry after Novak reported in a July 14, 2003, column that Plame recommended her husband for a 2002 mission to check into reports Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson, in a July 6, 2003, article in the New York Times, had said President George W. Bush's administration ``twisted'' some of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons to justify the war.
Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, said yesterday that Rove told the grand jury ``he had not heard her name before he heard it from Bob Novak.'' He declined in an interview to comment on whether Novak's account of their conversation differed from Rove's.
There also is a discrepancy between accounts given by Rove and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper. The White House aide mentioned Wilson's wife -- though not by name -- in a July 11, 2003, conversation with Cooper, the reporter said. Rove, 55, says that Cooper called him to talk about welfare reform and the Wilson connection was mentioned later, in passing.
Cooper wrote in Time magazine last week that he told the grand jury he never discussed welfare reform with Rove in that call.
Miller in Jail
One reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, has been jailed on contempt of court charges for refusing to testify before the grand jury about her reporting on the Plame case.
Cooper testified only after Time Inc. said it would comply with Fitzgerald's demands for Cooper's notes and reporting on the Plame matter, particularly regarding his dealings with Rove.
Libby, 54, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.]
The varying accounts of conversations between Rove, Libby and reporters come as new details emerge about a classified State Department memorandum that's also at the center of Fitzgerald's probe.
A memo by the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research included Plame's name in a paragraph marked ``(S)'' for ``Secret,'' a designation that indicated to anyone who read it that the information was classified, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
State Department Memo
The memo, prepared July 7, 2003, for Secretary of State Colin Powell, is a focus of Fitzgerald's interest, according to individuals who have testified before the grand jury and attorneys familiar with the case.
The three-page document said that Wilson had been recommended for a CIA-sponsored trip to Africa by his wife, who worked on the CIA's counter-proliferations desk.
Bush had said in his State of the Union message in January 2003 that Iraq was trying to purchase nuclear materials in Africa. Wilson said in his article that there was no basis to conclude that was the case and the administration had exaggerated the evidence.
At the time that Rove and Libby were talking with reporters, the two aides also were working together to determine whether Bush's allegation was correct, the New York Times reported today, citing people who have been briefed on the case. Days after Wilson's article appeared, the White House acknowledged that the assertion shouldn't have been included in Bush's speech.
The memo summarizing the Plame-Wilson connection was provided to Powell as he left with Bush on a five-day trip to Africa. Fitzgerald is exploring whether other White House officials on the trip may have gained access to the memo and shared its contents with officials back in Washington. Rove and Libby didn't accompany Bush to Africa.
One key to the inquiry is when White House aides knew of Wilson's connection to Plame and whether they learned about it through this memo or other classified information.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, speaking today at a meeting of House and Senate Democrats, said security clearances for Rove and Libby should be suspended and Bush should fire anyone involved in the leak.
Some Bush allies hope that the Fitzgerald investigation, which dominated the news in Washington for the first part of July, will subside as attention shifts to Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the first vacancy on the Supreme Court in 11 years.
Fitzgerald's term of service lasts until October, which is also the length of time remaining for the grand jury hearing evidence in the case.