Rove, Libby Accounts in CIA Case Differ With Those of Reporters
By Richard Keil
July 22 (Bloomberg) — Two top White House aides have given accounts to the special prosecutor about how reporters told them
the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said, according to persons 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 CIA agent Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush
administration critic Joseph Wilson. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn’t tell Libby of Plame’s
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, who was first to report Plame’s name and connection to Wilson. Novak, according to a source familiar with the matter, has given a somewhat different version to the special prosecutor.
These discrepancies may be important because one issue Fitzgerald is investigating is whether Libby, Rove, or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation. The Plame case has its genesis in whether any administration officials violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a CIA agent.
The CIA requested the inquiry after Novak’s July 14, 2003, article that said Plame recommended her husband for a 2002 mission to check into reports Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. Wilson, in a July 6 column in the New York Times, said the Bush administration “twisted” some of the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons to justify the war.
Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, said today that Rove did tell 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. Rove 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 that he never discussed welfare reform with Rove in that call.
The leak case shows that administration officials have in effect been using reporters as shields by claiming that the information on Plame first came from them.
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 didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
The various 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 (INR) included Plame’s name in a paragraph marked “(S)’’ for `Secret,’ a designation that should have indicated to anyone who read it that the information was classified, the Washington Post reported yesterday.
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, Valerie Wilson, who worked on the CIA’s counter-proliferations desk.
In his New York Times article, Wilson said there was no basis to conclude that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material in Africa and that the administration had exaggerated the evidence.
Bush had said in his State of the Union message in January, 2003 that Iraq was trying to purchase nuclear materials in Africa.
The memo summarizing the Plame-Wilson connection was provided to Powell as he left with President George W. Bush on a five-day trip to Africa. Fitzgerald is exploring whether other White House officials who accompanied Bush 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.
Some Bush allies were hopeful that the Fitzgerald investigation, which dominated the news in Washington for the first part of July, would subside as the focus now is on Bush’s nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the first vacancy on the Supreme Court in 11 years.
Yet special prosecutor Fitzgerald, not media coverage, will determine the outcome of this investigation.