But this pro-Rove argument is a curious one, since
the facts about the 2004 conversation would seem to buttress the case
against Rove, not exonerate him.
The available evidence now suggests that Rove did
lie to a federal grand jury – even after his lawyer got the warning in
early 2004 – and that Rove only admitted the initial contact with the
Time reporter when documentary evidence surfaced nine months later.
What is most striking about the early 2004
conversation is that it appears that even after Time reporter Viveca
Novak alerted Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin that Rove had passed on
information about CIA officer Valerie Plame to Time reporter Matthew
Cooper, Rove still claimed to have no recollection when he testified
before a federal grand jury in February 2004.
Only in October 2004, when Luskin discovered an
e-mail from Rove to deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley,
recounting the Rove-Cooper conversation in June 2003, did Rove change
his grand jury testimony to admit that he had told Cooper about Plame’s
identity, according to a Washington Post chronology.
Citing a “person familiar with the case,” the Post
reported that Viveca “Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection
before Rove’s first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004.
In that appearance, Rove testified that he did not recall talking to
Cooper about Plame. It was not until October 2004 that Rove told the
grand jury that he recalled the Cooper chat.” [Washington Post, Dec. 3,
It’s still unclear why Rove would have thought he
could stonewall the grand jury about the Cooper conversation in February
2004 if Rove’s lawyer Luskin already knew about it from Novak. Rove
might have expected that Time magazine would successfully resist the
demands from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for Cooper’s
According to that scenario, Rove would have finally
told the grand jury on Oct. 15, 2004, about the Cooper conversation only
after the documentary evidence was unequivocal and it was clear
Fitzgerald was serious about forcing journalists to testify. In the days
before Rove’s reversal, Fitzgerald subpoenaed Cooper, and Chief U.S.
District Judge Thomas Hogan issued a contempt citation demanding
Cooper’s appearance before the grand jury.
So, one interpretation of the timeline is that Rove
did recall his June 2003 chat with Cooper – and was reminded again by
the Novak-Luskin conversation – but still denied the facts in his first
grand jury appearance because he assumed that Fitzgerald would back off
when journalists refused to testify. That has often been the case in the
past. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Dissing
Fitzgerald & Prosecutorial Politics.”]
Upon realizing that Fitzgerald was determined to
secure Cooper’s testimony and was getting support from the federal
bench, Rove may have judged that he had little choice but to rush back
to the grand jury to correct his testimony, hoping that his claim of a
faulty memory might still be plausible.
So, the new revelation that Rove’s attorney had
been alerted to the Rove-Cooper conversation in early 2004 – and
presumably discussed that information with his client – would seem to
bolster the case against Rove. Nevertheless, Rove’s backers are citing
the Novak-Luskin contact as somehow exculpatory for Rove.
In October 2005, Luskin reportedly mentioned the
Novak conversation to Fitzgerald to dissuade him from indicting Rove as
the first grand jury was completing its term. Rove’s defenders then were
encouraged when Fitzgerald only indicted vice presidential chief of
staff Lewis Libby on charges of perjury, lying to the FBI and
obstruction of justice.
Some pro-Rove commentators pointed to Fitzgerald’s
failure to indict Rove as evidence that George W. Bush’s chief political
adviser had escaped legal jeopardy. But Fitzgerald has since impaneled a
new grand jury and is expected to call Viveca Novak to testify in the
An indictment of Rove would be very bad news for
President Bush, who would then see the Plame case inching ever closer to
the Oval Office.
Already, the emerging evidence has linked Vice
President Dick Cheney to the leak case. The New York Times reported that
more than a month before Plame was outed in a July 14, 2003, column by
conservative writer Robert Novak, the vice president was told about
Plame’s identity by then-CIA Director George Tenet.
At the time, Cheney was angry that Plame’s husband,
former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was challenging a chief rationale for
the invasion of Iraq. Wilson was telling reporters that he had been sent
by the CIA to check out reports of Iraq trying to buy enriched uranium
from Niger and had concluded that the claims were false.
But the White House still used the Niger
allegations in making its terrifying case that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was
on course to build a nuclear bomb.
After Wilson began to blow the whistle in the
months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Tenet divulged
to Cheney that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and had a hand in
arranging Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger – information that Cheney
then passed on to Libby in a conversation on June 12, 2003, according to
Libby’s notes as described by lawyers in the case, the New York Times
reported. [NYT, Oct. 25, 2005]
Those two facts – Plame’s work for the CIA and her
role in Wilson’s Niger trip – then became the centerpieces of the
administration’s behind-the-scenes campaign in June/July 2003 to
disparage Wilson. Rove, Libby and other administration officials told
journalists that Wilson’s wife had helped get him the Niger assignment.
On July 14, 2003, Robert Novak’s column, citing two
administration sources, outed Plame and portrayed Wilson’s Niger trip as
a case of nepotism. (Robert Novak and Viveca Novak are not related.)
Furious that Plame’s covert identity had been
blown, CIA officers pressed Tenet to refer the case to the Justice
Department to determine whether the disclosure violated a law barring
the willful exposure of a CIA officer. An investigation was soon
Responding to the initial inquiries, Libby and Rove
reportedly suggested they may have heard about Plame’s CIA job from
reporters and just recycled the rumors. But Fitzgerald’s investigation
discovered that the White House officials had clued reporters in on
Plame’s identity, not vice versa.
Fitzgerald has so far obtained a five-count
indictment against Libby. Now, Viveca Novak’s testimony could help
determine whether the prosecutor is convinced that the case against Rove
is ripe for grand jury charges, too.