White House Scrambles to Stop Criminal Indictment of Rove

The Bush Administration is scrambling behind the scenes to stop a criminal indictment against Presidential advisor Karl Rove for disclosing classified information to reporters in an attempt to discredit a White House critic.

Time Magazine emails turned over to a grand jury show Rove leaked CIA Operative Valerie Plame’s name to journalists after her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with claims the Bush Administration knowing used false information to justify the invasion of Iraq. Plame, until the disclosure, worked as a covert operative for the intelligence agency.

“Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews… that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Time reporter Matthew Cooper wrote in the magazine in July, 2003.

Emails recently turned over to a federal grand jury investigating the leak show Cooper told his editors that Rove was the source of the information. In addition, Rove attorney Karl Luskin confirms that Cooper interviewed Rove for the article but claims that his client “never knowingly disclosed classified information.”

However, a producer for MSNBC’s Hardball program testified before the grand jury that in July, 2003, Rove called the show’s host, Chris Matthews, and said Plame was “fair game.”

As a top White House aide, Rove has “code level” clearance on security matters and would easily have had access to Plame’s status at the CIA. White House sources say he requested additional information on both Plame and Wilson before talking to reporters.

If Rove knowingly disclosed classified information he could face federal felony indictments. Sources within the investigation say special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is pursuing such an indictment against Rove but that the White House is pressuring the Justice Department to put the brakes on such a move.

“It’s a power game,” says one Justice Department attorney familiar with the investigation. “The White House is very, very worried that this will come back down on Rove and them.”

Rove has long been suspected as the leak of Plame’s name which first appeared in conservative commentator Robert Novak’s column in July 2003. Novak has reportedly cut a deal with the special prosecutor to avoid jail time but two other reporters who also reported Plame’s name – Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller – could be jailed for refusing to testify before the grand jury.

 MSBC political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, appearing on the syndicated McLaughlin Group talk show, also outed Rove as the source last Friday, saying he has two sources that confirm Rove masterminded the leak.

Bill Israel, a former reporter who teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts and who taught with Rove at the University at Texas, says Rove could have easily set up the Plame affair.

“Rove once described himself as a die-hard Nixonite; he is, like the former president, both student and master of plausible deniability,” Israel says. “Consequently, when former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson challenged President Bush’s embrace of the British notion that Saddam Hussein imported uranium from Niger to produce nuclear weapons, retaliation by Rove was never in doubt.”