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Testimony from Rove's former assistant may solidify case that he misled leak inquiry, lawyers say

Jason Leopold and Larisa Alexandrovna

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Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will present evidence to a second grand jury this week in his two year-old investigation into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson that could lead to a criminal indictment being handed up against Karl Rove, President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, attorneys close to the investigation say.

Rove has remained under intense scrutiny because of inconsistencies in his testimony to investigators and the grand jury. According to sources, Rove withheld crucial facts on three separate occasions and allegedly misled investigators about conversations he had with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.

The attorneys say that Rove’s former personal assistant, Susan B. Ralston -- who was also a special assistant to President Bush -- testified in August about why Cooper’s call to Rove was not logged. Ralston said it occurred because Cooper had phoned in through the White House switchboard and was then transferred to Rove’s office as opposed to calling Rove’s office directly. As Rove’s assistant, Ralston screened Rove’s calls.

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But those close to the probe tell RAW STORY that Fitzgerald obtained documentary evidence showing that other unrelated calls transferred to Rove’s office by the switchboard were logged. He then called Ralston back to testify.

Earlier this month, attorneys say Fitzgerald received additional testimony from Ralston -- who said that Rove instructed her not to log a phone call Rove had with Cooper about Plame in July 2003.

Ralston also provided Fitzgerald with more information and “clarification” about several telephone calls Rove allegedly made to a few reporters, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the lawyers said.

If true, this is perhaps the most significant evidence Fitzgerald has obtained suggesting Rove deliberately sought to mislead investigators. Her 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 he had spoken with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper as well as Novak about Plame and confirmed that she was an undercover CIA agent.

Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, maintains that his client did not intentionally withhold facts from the prosecutor or grand jury but simply forgot about his conversations with Cooper. But sources say Rove’s reasons for not being forthcoming have not convinced Fitzgerald that Rove had a momentary lapse.

Rove 'to be charged or make plea'

Those close to the investigation say Fitzgerald will present evidence to the grand jury later this week obtained from other witnesses who were interviewed by the Special Prosecutor or testified, showing that Rove made misleading statements to Justice Department and FBI investigators in an attempt to cover-up his role in the leak when he was first interviewed about it in October 2003.

The most serious charges Rove appears to face are making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice, the sources said. Rove does not appear to be in jeopardy of being charged with violating a law making it a crime to leak the name of a covert CIA agent because it’s unlikely that he was aware that Plame was undercover, they added.

Rove’s conversation with Cooper took place a week or so before Plame’s identity was revealed publicly in a July 14, 2003 column penned by conservative columnist Robert Novak. Cooper wrote his own story about Plame a few days later. In his grand jury testimony, Rove said he first learned of Plame’s name from reporters, and only after her named was published did he discuss her CIA status with other journalists. That sequence of events, however, turned out to be false.

Plame, who is married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was targeted in effort to discredit Wilson, a vociferous critic of the administration’s prewar Iraq intelligence. After making a trip to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to obtain uranium there, Wilson declared the claims were spurious in a New York Times editorial. Rove, along with other senior Bush Administration officials, discussed Wilson’s wife in an attempt to discredit and silence the ambassador by positing that his wife had arranged the Niger trip.

Two things are clear, the sources said: either Rove will agree to enter into a plea deal with Fitzgerald or he will be charged with a crime, but he will not be exonerated for the role he played in the leak.

If Rove does agree to a plea, Fitzgerald is not expected to discuss any aspect of his probe into the President’s senior adviser because Rove may be called to testify as a prosecution witness against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was indicted last month on five counts of lying to investigators, perjury and obstruction of justice related to his role in the leak.

On Sunday, Time reported that another one of its reporters, Viveca Novak, who bears no relation to Robert Novak, is cooperating with Fitzgerald’s probe and will give a deposition to Fitzgerald about a conversation she had with Rove’s attorney in May 2004.

Following the meeting, Viveca Novak did not write about the Plame leak under her byline until October 2004. She wrote an earlier piece in January 2004.

Ralston previously worked as a personal secretary to Jack Abramoff, the Republican power lobbyist now under investigation for allegedly 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 and their staff. Ralston communicated with Rove on Abramoff’s behalf on tribal affairs, though she does not stand accused of any wrongdoing.

Correction: Because of a double negative, an earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that Rove was aware that Plame was a covert agent. Also, this version corrects the fact that Ms. Novak wrote an article about the leak inquiry earlier than originally asserted.

Originally published on Monday November 28, 2005

 


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