White House political aide Karl Rove was the first person to tell a Time magazine reporter that the wife of a prominent critic of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy was a CIA agent, the reporter said in an article on Sunday.

Time correspondent Matthew Cooper said he told a grand jury last week that Rove told him the woman worked at the “agency,” or CIA, on weapons of mass destruction issues, and ended the call by saying “I’ve already said too much.”

The leak of the agent’s identity has sparked a criminal probe, and several Democrats have urged President Bush to fire or sideline Rove, Bush’s top political adviser.

Cooper wrote that Rove did not disclose the woman’s name, Valerie Plame, but told him in July 2003 that information would be declassified that would cast doubt on the credibility of her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson.

“Don’t get too far out on Wilson,” Cooper quoted Rove as saying. Cooper said he had also discussed Wilson and his wife with a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Wilson took a CIA-funded trip in 2002 to investigate a charge that Iraq tried to buy nuclear materials in Africa, and later accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the Iraqi weapons threat in its case for war.

“So did Rove leak Plame’s name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the ‘agency’ on ‘WMD’? Yes,” Cooper wrote in Time’s current edition.

“When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don’t know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me,” Cooper wrote.

He said he was uncertain what Rove meant by commenting he had already said too much.


Cooper testified about Rove to avoid going to jail. New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to testify.

It is against the law for a government official to knowingly expose a covert CIA agent.

Columnist Robert Novak revealed Plame’s identity in July 2003, citing two administration officials, shortly after Wilson published an opinion piece in the New York Times that accused the administration of twisting intelligence on Iraq.

Wilson wrote that in Niger he could not substantiate allegations Iraq had tried to buy nuclear materials, as the White House asserted even after the mission.

Cooper also reported on Plame’s identity, citing Novak’s column and administration officials.

Wilson accuses the Bush administration of retaliation in his wife’s exposure; Rove’s lawyer said the aide had done nothing wrong and was not an investigation target.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called criticisms of Rove “partisan smears.”

Bush has said he would fire any leaker in the case, but said last week he would withhold judgment on Rove’s role.

Cooper wrote he had previously told the grand jury he had also discussed Wilson and his wife with Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. He said he asked Libby about Wilson’s wife playing a role in the Niger trip, and Libby replied, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.”

Rove used similar language in a conversation with Novak, according to media reports. Wilson had written that he took the trip in response to questions raised by Cheney, but he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” he had not meant to imply Cheney sent him.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in October 2003 that Rove, Libby and another official had assured him they were uninvolved in the leak.

Cooper said he viewed Rove’s comments on Wilson as an attack on his credibility. “I thought it was disparaging toward Wilson. I thought it was sort of guiding,” he said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely)

© 2005 Reuters