Rove Talked But Did Not Tattle, His Attorney Says

Times Staff Writer

Karl Rove, one of President Bush’s closest advisors, spoke with a Time magazine reporter days before the name of a CIA operative surfaced in the press, but did not leak the confidential information, a lawyer for Rove said Saturday in a new admission in the case.

Rove spoke to Time reporter Matthew Cooper in July 2003, before a syndicated column revealed the identity of operative Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Cooper is one of two reporters who has been held in contempt of court for not cooperating with a federal investigation into who leaked Plame’s identity. Although Wilson once said he suspected that Rove had played a role in destroying his wife’s CIA cover, the White House dismissed questions about Rove’s actions as “totally ridiculous.”

In confirming the conversation between Rove and Cooper, Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, emphasized that the presidential advisor did not reveal any secrets. But the disclosure raised new questions about Rove and the precise role of the White House in the apparent national security breach as Cooper and another reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, faced imminent jail terms.

Time Inc., under pressure from a federal judge and over Cooper’s objections, turned over e-mail records and other internal documents to a special prosecutor Friday, identifying sources that Cooper used to report and write on the politically charged case. A Time spokeswoman declined to say Saturday whether Rove was among sources mentioned in the documents.


Cooper and Miller could be jailed as soon as Wednesday for refusing to cooperate in the investigation. Time, which was separately held in contempt in the case, said that it hoped its cooperation meant that Cooper would not be incarcerated.

Rove, Bush’s deputy chief of staff and longtime political strategist, testified before a grand jury investigating the Plame case on three occasions. His latest appearance was in October 2004, about the same time the prosecutor investigating the case said his probe was complete with the exception of testimony from Cooper and Miller.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is investigating the alleged outing of Plame by Robert Novak, a columnist and CNN pundit, on July 14, 2003. Some suspect that the White House leaked her name in retaliation for a July 6, 2003, op-ed piece in the New York Times written by Wilson, her husband. He accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Fitzgerald interviewed many other White House officials and journalists, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Although Novak was the first to publish Plame’s name, Fitzgerald has indicated that whoever leaked the information to Novak also might have revealed her identity to other journalists. That could constitute separate violations of a federal law that protects the identity of undercover CIA personnel.

Prosecutions are rare, however, because they require showing that the leak was intentionally disclosed and that the person leaking the information knew the government was trying to conceal it.

Fitzgerald asked Cooper and Time for documents and testimony relating to conversations Cooper had with official sources about Wilson, Plame or her ties to the CIA in the period before the publication of Novak’s column. Cooper wrote about the case on Time’s website after the Novak column appeared.

Luskin, Rove’s attorney, acknowledged in an interview Saturday that Cooper and Rove had spoken days before Novak’s column, in a conversation that was initiated by Cooper.

“What I can tell you is that Cooper called Rove during that week between the Wilson article and the Novak article, but that Karl absolutely did not identify Valerie Plame,” Luskin said. “He did not disclose any confidential information about anybody to Cooper or to anybody else.”

Luskin said he would not “characterize the substance of the conversation,” which was covered in the testimony Rove provided to the grand jury investigating the leak. “The folks in Fitzgerald’s office have asked us not to talk about what Karl has had to say,” Luskin said.

Luskin said Rove had been assured by prosecutors that he was not a target of the investigation. “We were advised recently that his status has not changed,” he added.

“It is certainly my understanding that Karl has testified absolutely truthfully about all his conversations about everybody that he has been asked about during that week,” Luskin added. “Nobody has suggested to us ever that they think that there are any problems about whether they think he is being candid.”

But Newsweek magazine reported on its website Saturday that Rove was one of Cooper’s sources identified in notes that Time turned over to Fitzgerald. And separately, MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell said in a taped TV program that he had information indicating Rove was one of Cooper’s sources. O’Donnell’s comments were made in a segment of “The McLaughlin Group” that was set to air in Los Angeles on PBS Saturday night.

Cooper’s lawyer, Richard Sauber, declined to discuss Rove’s role in Cooper’s work, saying in response to an e-mail message, “We’re not going to discuss one way or another what the [documents turned over by Time] say.”

In court papers filed Friday arguing against his possible confinement, Cooper’s lawyers said if he were to break promises of confidentiality, “his ability to continue as an effective reporter would be seriously jeopardized.”

In letters to the court accompanying his plea, fellow journalists discussed this principle.

“Journalists must honor their promises which protect the bad along with the good,” said Margaret Carlson, a Time columnist and colleague of Cooper. “We can’t separate them like the darks and the whites in the laundry.”