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Rove aide called back to testify as inquiry into Rove's role wraps up, lawyers say

Jason Leopold and Larisa Alexandrovna

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Ralston and President BushSpecial Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will soon conclude his investigation into whether President Bush’s deputy chief of staff Karl Rove gave false statements to a grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA agent, attorneys close to the case say.

According to lawyers familiar with the case, Fitzgerald is trying to convince the grand jury that Rove made false statements during the three times he testified under oath and misleading statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators when he was first interviewed about his role in the leak in October 2003.

The attorneys told RAW STORY that Fitzgerald has called Rove’s former personal assistant, Susan B. Ralston -- who was also a special assistant to President Bush -- to testify before the grand jury for a third time, perhaps as early as Monday. She is not said to be in legal jeopardy.

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Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn would neither confirm nor deny that Ralston would appear before the grand jury. Ralston’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Ralston previously worked as a personal secretary to Jack Abramoff, the Republican power lobbyist being investigated for allegations of defrauding Indian tribes who was recently indicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges. While working with Abramoff, Ralston arranged fundraisers and events at Washington MCI Center skyboxes for members of Congress. Ralston communicated with Rove on Abramoff’s behalf on tribal affairs, though she is not accused of wrongdoing.

Fitzgerald wants to question Ralston again about several telephone calls Rove allegedly made to a few reporters, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak, lawyers close to the investigation say. Novak first disclosed the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in his July 14, 2003 column.

Furthermore, the attorneys said that Fitzgerald wants Ralston to clarify some of her previous testimony regarding statements she made about a phone call Rove had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.

Ralston testified that Cooper’s name was not noted in the call logs from Rove’s office, those familiar with the case say.

Ralston told the grand jury that Cooper’s call to Rove was transferred to Rove’s office by the White House switchboard. She testified that the call was not logged by Rove’s office because Cooper had not called Rove’s office directly.

Sources say that Fitzgerald has obtained documentary evidence proving that scenario does not jibe with other unrelated calls to Rove’s office that were also transferred to his office by the switchboard but were logged.

RAW STORY called the White House today, trying to ascertain whether calls were logged. The White House switchboard operator would not transfer this reporter to Rove’s office and instead transferred the call to the White House comment line. A spokesman for the White House office of media affairs did not return a call seeking comment.

Ralston, 38, testified in the leak case twice this past summer. The Phillipine News, which first reported that Ralston would be called back to testify and is keeping tabs on Ralston because of her Philippine heritage and her previously high profile role in the administration, noted that Rove aide Israel Hernandez was asked similar questions.

Hernandez, 35, testified before the grand jury in August. He was tapped by Bush to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and was formerly a close aide to Rove.

As Rove’s senior adviser, Ralston screened Rove’s calls. Her additional testimony may help Fitzgerald prove that there were inconsistencies in Rove’s account of his role in the leak and assess why he withheld a crucial fact from the prosecutor: that Rove had spoken with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper as well as Novak about Plame and confirmed that she was an undercover CIA agent.

Despite the emergence of new information in the case, there remains a chance that Rove will not be charged. In that event, Fitzgerald is not expected to discuss any aspect of his probe into Rove because he may be called to testify as a prosecution witness against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was indicted two weeks ago on five counts of lying to investigators, perjury and obstruction of justice related to his role in the leak. The sources said that the situation surrounding Rove remains fluid and changes with each passing day.

In recent days, Fitzgerald seems to have come to the conclusion that Rove may still be misleading the prosecution, the attorneys said. They would not elaborate.

During previous interviews, Rove said he first learned Plame's name from reporters and only after her named was published did he discuss Plame with other reporters. But Rove changed his story when he testified before the grand jury for a fourth time in September.

Robert Luskin, Rove’s lawyer, continues to maintain that his client has not intentionally withheld facts from the prosecutor or the grand jury but has simply forgotten about his conversations with the reporters, the attorneys said.

Luskin could not be reached for comment.

John Byrne contributed reporting for this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number of times Rove had testified to the grand jury. He testified four times, not three.

Originally published on Thursday November 10, 2005

 


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