Rove allegedly learned CIA agent's name from columnist

Bush adviser reportedly told investigators that Novak named Plame


WASHINGTON - White House adviser Karl Rove spoke with columnist Robert Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified an undercover CIA officer, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said yesterday.

Rove told investigators that he learned from Novak the name of the CIA officer, who was referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and the circumstances under which her husband, former Ambassador Jo seph C. Wilson IV, went to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, the person said.

After hearing Novak's account, the person who has been briefed on the matter said, Rove replied: "I heard that, too."

The previously undisclosed telephone conversation, which took place on July 8, 2003, was initiated by Novak, the person briefed on the matter said.

Six days later, Novak's syndicated column reported that two senior administration officials had told him that Wilson's "wife had suggested sending him" to Africa. That column was the first instance in which Valerie Wilson was publicly identified as a CIA operative. The column provoked angry demands for an investigation into who disclosed her name to Novak.

The Justice Department appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a top federal prosecutor in Chicago, to lead the inquiry. Rove said in an interview last year that he did not know the CIA officer's name and did not leak it.

The person who provided the information about Rove's conversation with Novak declined to be identified, citing requests by Fitzgerald that no one discuss the case. The person discussed the matter in the belief that Rove was truthful in saying that he did not disclose Valerie Wilson's identity.

On Oct. 1, 2003, Novak wrote another column in which he described calling two officials. The first source, who is unknown, was described by Novak as "no partisan gunslinger" who provided the outlines of the story. The second, confirming source, Novak wrote, responded, "Oh, you know about it."

That second source was Rove, the person briefed on the matter said, although Rove's account to investigators about what he told Novak was slightly different. Rove recalled telling Novak: "I heard that, too."

Robert D. Luskin, Rove's lawyer, said yesterday: "Any pertinent information has been provided to the prosecutor." Luskin has previously said that prosecutors have advised Rove that he is not a target in the case, which means he is not likely to be charged with a crime.

Novak declined yesterday to discuss the matter.

The conversation between Novak and Rove seemed almost certain to intensify the question about whether one of Bush's closest political advisers played a role in what appeared to be an effort to undermine Joseph Wilson's credibility after he challenged the veracity of a key point in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, alleging that Saddam Hussein had sought nuclear fuel in Africa.

The conversation with Novak took place three days before Rove spoke with Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter, whose e-mail message about their conversation reignited the issue. In the message, whose contents were reported this week by Newsweek, Cooper told his editors that Rove had talked about Valerie Wilson, though not by name.

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