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Rove Will Testify Again in Leak Case

Times Staff Writers

Presidential advisor Karl Rove has agreed to testify a fourth time before a federal grand jury wrapping up its investigation into the leak of a covert CIA agent’s identity -- further rattling some Republicans already on edge about the implications of the long-running inquiry.

Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said Thursday that the special prosecutor in the case had called last week asking for Rove’s additional cooperation and told him that he had “made no decision on whether to charge Karl.”

Rove’s testimony could come as soon as today. The request for Rove to testify came after New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed 85 days for refusing to cooperate, was released last week and testified in the case.

Luskin said Rove had not received a “target letter” -- a notice customarily sent to a grand jury witness about to be indicted. He portrayed Rove’s additional trip to the grand jury as another sign of extraordinary cooperation from his client and the White House.

Luskin declined to speculate on whether the request from the federal prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, increased Rove’s legal vulnerability in the case.

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The request for additional testimony from Rove, President Bush’s chief political advisor, returns public attention to the role that he and other top White House officials played in discussing CIA officer Valerie Plame with reporters. It is a felony to knowingly leak the name of a covert agent, and it is that possible violation that inspired the federal probe.

Since then, however, Fitzgerald has interviewed dozens of Bush administration officials, and some familiar with the prosecutor’s questions believe he is looking also at the possibility of obstruction of justice, perjury or conspiracy charges in the case.

The case is troublesome for the White House not only because of the possibility of indictments against top officials, but because it raises questions about the rationale the administration used in going to war with Iraq, and about the tactics it uses against political enemies.

Plame is married to former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, who wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times criticizing the administration’s use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. On July 14, 2003, eight days after Wilson’s article appeared, columnist Robert Novak identified Plame by name and occupation in a syndicated column that challenged Wilson’s credibility.

That set into motion the long-running investigation. At first the White House called it “ridiculous” to suggest that top officials had leaked the identity of the agent.

However, reporters testified that Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had discussed Wilson’s wife with them in an apparent attempt to discredit the former envoy.

Wilson had been dispatched to Africa by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq had sought uranium for a nuclear weapons program. Wilson found little evidence to support the claim, and went public with his findings after the president made reference to it in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Libby and Rove reportedly testified that they did not know Plame’s name or undercover status when they talked with reporters.

The grand jury considering the case is due to expire Oct. 28, and it is widely assumed that Fitzgerald is wrapping up the inquiry. Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fitzgerald, said the special prosecutor and his office would have no comment on Rove or the status of the case.

However, there was an additional sign that Fitzgerald continued to investigate aggressively. He phoned Wilson on Sept. 29, the same day Miller, the New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to divulge her confidential source, was released from jail after agreeing to testify in the case. She testified the next day.

Wilson declined in an interview to discuss the nature of their conversation, but confirmed that it occurred.

After Miller testified, Luskin said, “I was advised ... that [prosecutors] might like [Rove’s] further cooperation.”

Luskin said he had told prosecutors in July -- when Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper was testifying to the grand jury about his conversations with Rove -- that Rove would be willing to cooperate in any way with the investigation.

Rove’s return to the grand jury adds to a growing list of woes for Republicans. Other investigations are proceeding against Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who had to step down as House majority leader last week after a Texas indictment on a charge of violating state campaign finance laws. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating stock trades by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and a prominent Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, is under scrutiny in separate cases.

It occurs at a time when the White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers, who would normally coordinate the legal response to the indictment of a White House official, is preoccupied with her nomination to the Supreme Court.

At a dinner Thursday night celebrating the 50th anniversary of the conservative magazine National Review, some attendees privately expressed nervousness about the possibility of legal action against Rove or other White House officials.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said late Thursday that he could not comment on an “ongoing investigation.” But administration officials say Rove has remained fully engaged in his role as a deputy chief of staff.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino said Rove had been active in placing “outreach calls” to boost Bush’s nomination of Miers to the Supreme Court. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman called Rove a friend and an “incredibly important advisor to the president and to all of us,” and added: “I have confidence in him.”

Conservative activists, including Grover Norquist, said Rove was on top of things “as always.” Conservative activist Paul M. Weyrich said Rove was responsible for recruiting the assistance of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, having called the Colorado-based evangelist four times over the weekend about the Miers nomination.

Rove has also remained engaged in politics, attending a fundraiser last month in North Dakota. On Wednesday, he was the headliner at a reception for the Dallas County Republican Party attended by 300 fans.

“He got a roaring reception,” said an official from the local GOP. “He’s always welcome in Texas.”

Times staff writer Josh Meyer contributed to this report.


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