According to Murray Waas, one of the best investigative reporters working in Washington these days, White House presidential guru Karl Rove and right-wing columnist Robert Novak conspired to cover Rove’s involvement in the leaking of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to the press.

Waas writes in today’s National Journal Online:

Rove and Novak, investigators suspect, might have devised a cover story to protect Rove because the grand jury testimony of both men appears to support Rove’s contentions about how he learned about Plame. Rove has testified that he did not learn that Plame was a CIA operative from classified information, that he was not part of a campaign with Libby or other White House officials to discredit Wilson or out Plame, and that any information that he provided Novak and Cooper about Plame’s CIA job was only unsubstantiated gossip.

According to sources, Rove told the FBI and testified to the federal grand jury that he first heard that Plame worked for the CIA from a person whose name he could not remember. That person, he said, might have been a journalist, although he was not certain. Rove has also said that he could not recall whether the conversation took place in person or over the telephone.

Rove has testified that he heard more about Plame from Novak, who had originally called him on July 9 about an entirely different matter. It was only at the end of their conversation that Rove heard that Plame worked for the CIA and had some role in sending her husband on his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, Rove has testified. Having been told this information by Novak, Rove told the FBI, he simply said he had heard the same thing.

Waas’ story appears to confirm longstanding speculation that Rove remains a target of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald although his story does not suggest the White House aide has yet been indicted, as reported two weeks ago by the partisan web site Truthout.

In fact, most well-placed Washington sources say the Truthout story, written by often-discredited journalist Jason Leopold, is mostly wishful thinking and a gamble that an indictment, which still may be handed down, was already in place.