Washington White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with at least one reporter about Valerie Plame's role at the CIA before she was identified as a covert agent in a newspaper column two years ago, but Rove's lawyer said Sunday that his client did not identify her by name.
Rove had a short conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper on July 11, 2003, three days before Robert D. Novak publicly exposed Plame in a column about her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had come under attack from the White House for his claims that he found no evidence Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger and that he reported those findings to top administration officials. Wilson publicly accused the administration of leaking his wife's identity as a means of retaliation.
The leak of Plame's name to the press spawned a federal grand jury investigation that has been seeking to find the origin of the disclosure. Cooper avoided jail time last week by agreeing to testify before the grand jury about conversations with his sources, while New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to discuss her confidential sources.
Cooper, according to an internal Time e-mail obtained by Newsweek magazine, spoke with Rove before Novak's column was published. In the conversation, Rove gave Cooper a "big warning" that Wilson's claims might not be entirely accurate and that it wasn't the director of the CIA or the vice president who sent Wilson on his trip. Rove apparently told Cooper that it was "Wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd (weapons of mass destruction) issues who authorized the trip," according to a story in Newsweek's July 18 issue.
Rove's conversation with Cooper could be significant because it indicates a White House official was discussing Plame prior to her being publicly named.
While the information is revelatory, it is still unknown whether Rove is a focus of the investigation, and Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, has said he is not a target of the probe. Luskin said Sunday that Rove did not know Plame's name and was not actively trying to push the information into the public realm.
Instead, Luskin said, Rove discussed the matter - under the cloak of secrecy - with Cooper at the tail end of a conversation about a different issue. Cooper had called Rove to discuss other matters on a Friday before deadline, and the topic of Wilson came up briefly. Luskin said Cooper raised the question.
"Rove did not mention her name to Cooper," Luskin said. "This was not an effort to encourage Time to disclose her identity. What he was doing was discouraging Time from perpetuating some statements that had been made publicly and weren't true."