Putting to rest a month-long rumor published by a left-wing web site, prosecutors in the CIA leak case has told White House political guru Karl Rove he will not be charged in the CIA leak case.
The news, which discredits a published report by often-discredited journalist Jason Leopold on the web site Truthout, is a rare piece of good news for President George W. Bush, who had been battered by sinking poll numbers and negative publicity ahead of congressional elections in November.
As Bush’s top political adviser, Rove is out from under the cloud of possible perjury charges and is free to concentrate on helping Republicans keep control of Congress in what looks like a hard fought campaign.
“On June 12, 2006, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove,” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said in a statement.
Fitzgerald has already secured an indictment from a federal grand jury against another senior White House aide, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
In October, Libby was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents and a grand jury during the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in January.
That prompted speculation that Rove, too, could face charges since he had also spoken to reporters in the case.
Truthout, a left-leaning web site run by former fashion photographer Marc Ash, refused today to retract its story of May 13 that claimed Rove had already been served with an indictment and had 24 hours to get his affairs in order.
Ash, in a post today on the site’s blog, said he was “stunned” and added: “We have put our cards on the table. We invite Mr. Luskin to do the same.”
Capitol Hill Blue reported on May 28 that Rove had not been indicted but that sources within the investigation said Fitzgerald had not yet ruled him out as a suspect. Today’s events confirm that story.
Truthout’s normally loyal readers, burned by steadfastly standing by Ash even as the story unraveled, turned on the web site, Leopold, and its leaders.
“I have to tell you, I’ve been on your side all along and am a great believer in TO, but this borders on lunacy. You’re stunned? Who are your credible sources? The time to out them is long overdue, if they actually are credible and you actually confirmed the info they gave you,” wrote a poster who identified himself as “nomorelyz. “Like many other TO regulars, I’m waiting for something with a little more substance than “you’re stunned” – so are we. What happened?”
“We believe the special counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct,” Luskin said.
Rove had no comment himself but was expected to immerse himself in the election campaign. He gave a taste of what was to come in a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday night when he attacked Democrats over the Iraq war.
“When it gets tough, they fall back on that party’s old platform of cutting and running,” he said. “They may be with you for the first few bullets but they won’t be there for the last tough battles.”
But Democrats were not about to let the issue die. National Chairman Howard Dean said the fact that Rove will not face indictment “does not excuse his real sin, which is leaking the name of an intelligence operative during a time of war. He doesn’t belong in the White House.”
Fitzgerald’s investigation centers on who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame after her husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration for manipulating intelligence in the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Libby and Rove spoke to reporters about Plame before her identity was made public by newspaper columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.
Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn said he had no comment and did not confirm or deny that Rove would not be charged.
Christopher Wolf, a lawyer for Wilson and Plame, hinted there may be more legal action in the future.
“The day still may come when Mr. Rove and others are called to account in a court of law for their attacks on the Wilsons,” he said.
But the White House tried to put the issue aside. White House counselor Dan Bartlett, speaking to reporters with Bush in Baghdad, said, “What has been amazing is how Karl has maintained his focus and high energy level and his great attitude throughout this entire period. We’re pleased this is behind him and behind us.”
For months Bush’s popularity has taken a beating, mostly because of the war, with his poll approval ratings plummeting to record lows. But recently they have improved and the death of top al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and news about Rove were certainly welcomed by administration officials.
“The president is looking a little better, a little stronger,” Former Republican House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a television interview on Fox News. “Certainly for the White House and for Karl Rove this is a very important morning and a very positive one.”