Rove Claims Novak Leaked Plame’s Name to Him

Presidential confidant Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he learned the identity of a CIA operative originally from journalists, then informally discussed the information with a Time magazine reporter days before the story broke, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, told The Associated Press that Rove testified last year that he remembers specifically being told by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, the wife of a harsh Iraq war critic, worked for the CIA.

Rove testified that Novak originally called him the Tuesday before Plame’s identity was revealed in July 2003 to discuss another story. The conversation eventually turned to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was strongly criticizing the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy and the intelligence it used to justify the war, the source said.

The person said Rove testified that Novak told him he had learned and planned to report in a weekend column that Wilson’s wife, Plame, had worked for the CIA, and the circumstances on how her husband traveled to Africa to check bogus claims of alleged nuclear material sales to Iraq.

Novak’s column, citing two Bush administration officials, appeared six days later, touching off a political firestorm and leading to a federal criminal investigation into who leaked Plame’s undercover identity. That probe has ensnared presidential aides and reporters in a two-year legal battle.

Rove told the grand jury that by the time Novak had called him, he believes he had similar information about Wilson’s wife from another reporter but had no recollection of which reporter had told him about it first, the source said.

When Novak inquired about Wilson’s wife working for the CIA, Rove indicated he had heard something like that, according to the source’s recounting of the grand jury testimony.

Rove told the grand jury that four days later, he had a phone conversation with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper and _ in an effort to discredit some of Wilson’s allegations _ told Cooper that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, though he never used her name.

An e-mail Cooper recently provided the grand jury shows Cooper reported to his magazine bosses that Rove had described Wilson’s wife in a confidential conversation as someone who “apparently works” at the CIA.

Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, said Thursday his client truthfully testified to the grand jury and expected to be exonerated.

“Karl provided all pertinent information to prosecutors a long time ago,” Luskin said. “And prosecutors confirmed when he testified most recently in October 2004 that he is not a target of the investigation.”

Rove’s conversation with Cooper took place five days after Wilson suggested in a New York Times opinion piece that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat. Novak’s column identifying Wilson’s wife as a CIA employee and Cooper’s magazine piece came out a few days later.

Pressed to explain its statements of two years ago that Rove wasn’t involved in the leak, the White House refused to do so this week.

“If I were to get into discussing this, I would be getting into discussing an investigation that continues and could be prejudging the outcome of the investigation,” McClellan said.

© 2005 The Associated Press