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A Twist in the Rove-Plame Mystery

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Defenders of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove are citing a conversation in early 2004 between Rove's lawyer and a Time magazine reporter as new evidence that Rove didn't commit perjury when he initially denied that he told another Time reporter about a CIA officer's identity in mid-2003.

But this pro-Rove argument is a curious one, since the facts about the 2004 conversation would seem to buttress the case against Rove, not exonerate him.

The available evidence now suggests that Rove did lie to a federal grand jury - even after his lawyer got the warning in early 2004 - and that Rove only admitted the initial contact with the Time reporter when documentary evidence surfaced nine months later.

What is most striking about the early 2004 conversation is that it appears that even after Time reporter Viveca Novak alerted Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin that Rove had passed on information about CIA officer Valerie Plame to Time reporter Matthew Cooper, Rove still claimed to have no recollection when he testified before a federal grand jury in February 2004.

Only in October 2004, when Luskin discovered an e-mail from Rove to deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, recounting the Rove-Cooper conversation in June 2003, did Rove change his grand jury testimony to admit that he had told Cooper about Plame's identity, according to a Washington Post chronology.

Citing a "person familiar with the case," the Post reported that Viveca "Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection before Rove's first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004. In that appearance, Rove testified that he did not recall talking to Cooper about Plame. It was not until October 2004 that Rove told the grand jury that he recalled the Cooper chat." [Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2005]


It's still unclear why Rove would have thought he could stonewall the grand jury about the Cooper conversation in February 2004 if Rove's lawyer Luskin already knew about it from Novak. Rove might have expected that Time magazine would successfully resist the demands from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for Cooper's testimony.

According to that scenario, Rove would have finally told the grand jury on Oct. 15, 2004, about the Cooper conversation only after the documentary evidence was unequivocal and it was clear Fitzgerald was serious about forcing journalists to testify. In the days before Rove's reversal, Fitzgerald subpoenaed Cooper, and Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan issued a contempt citation demanding Cooper's appearance before the grand jury.

So, one interpretation of the timeline is that Rove did recall his June 2003 chat with Cooper - and was reminded again by the Novak-Luskin conversation - but still denied the facts in his first grand jury appearance because he assumed that Fitzgerald would back off when journalists refused to testify. That has often been the case in the past. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com's "Dissing Fitzgerald & Prosecutorial Politics."]

Upon realizing that Fitzgerald was determined to secure Cooper's testimony and was getting support from the federal bench, Rove may have judged that he had little choice but to rush back to the grand jury to correct his testimony, hoping that his claim of a faulty memory might still be plausible.

So, the new revelation that Rove's attorney had been alerted to the Rove-Cooper conversation in early 2004 - and presumably discussed that information with his client - would seem to bolster the case against Rove. Nevertheless, Rove's backers are citing the Novak-Luskin contact as somehow exculpatory for Rove.

In October 2005, Luskin reportedly mentioned the Novak conversation to Fitzgerald to dissuade him from indicting Rove as the first grand jury was completing its term. Rove's defenders then were encouraged when Fitzgerald only indicted vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby on charges of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.

Some pro-Rove commentators pointed to Fitzgerald's failure to indict Rove as evidence that George W. Bush's chief political adviser had escaped legal jeopardy. But Fitzgerald has since impaneled a new grand jury and is expected to call Viveca Novak to testify in the coming days.

Bad News

An indictment of Rove would be very bad news for President Bush, who would then see the Plame case inching ever closer to the Oval Office.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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