Time reporter says he learned of CIA operative from Rove

Published account details his grand jury testimony

July 18, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, said the White House senior adviser Karl Rove was the first person to tell him that the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was a CIA officer, according to a first-person account in this week's issue of the magazine.

The account also stated that Rove said that Wilson's wife had played a role in sending Wilson to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq.

The article, a description of Cooper's testimony Wednesday to a federal grand jury trying to determine whether White House officials illegally disclosed the identity of a covert intelligence officer, offered the most detailed personal account of how a White House official did not merely confirm what a journalist knew but supplied that information.

Cooper said in his article that Rove did not mention the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, or say that she was a covert officer. But, he wrote, "Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the `agency' on `WMD'? Yes.

"Is any of this a crime?" he added. "Beats me."

A 1982 law that makes it a crime to identify covert operatives in some circumstances "does not require that the name be disclosed," Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA who is now in private practice at Arnold & Porter in Washington, said yesterday. "It just says that you cannot intentionally disclose any information identifying a covert agent."

Cooper's article, a rare first-person look inside grand jury deliberations from one of the prime protagonists, is likely to add kindling to a growing political dispute over whether there was a White House effort to disclose Plame's identity as political payback for her husband's criticism of the administration.

Rove's allies have said that he did not initiate any conversations with reporters, and that he was merely warning them off what he said was faulty information.

Cooper also wrote about a conversation he initiated with I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Although it has been known that reporters had spoken to Libby, it was unknown what Libby had said. His conversation with Cooper is the first indication that Libby was aware of Plame's role in her husband's trip to Africa. When Cooper asked if Libby knew of that, Libby said he had heard that as well, the article said.

Both Libby and Rove sought to dispel speculation that Cheney had played a role in dispatching Wilson on his mission.

Cooper's article was the fulcrum for a day full of partisan bickering on the television news talk shows, cable news channels and the Web. Some Democrats, saying Rove's credibility was in tatters, called once again for his dismissal from the White House, while Republicans continued to defend him, saying Democrats are prejudging a continuing investigation.

Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, declined to comment yesterday about the details in Cooper's article. Libby and his lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, have said in the past that they will not discuss the matter.

Cooper found himself in front of the grand jury Wednesday morning just one week after receiving "an express personal release from my source," which spared him a jail sentence for civil contempt of court. (Another reporter facing the same punishment that day, Judith Miller of The New York Times, was jailed after refusing to disclose her source for an article she never wrote.) Cooper had refused to testify about what a confidential source, now known to be Rove, had told him for an article that appeared on Time's Web site on July 17, 2003, about administration officials "having taken public and private whacks" at Wilson.

Rove's supporters have argued that he did not know of Plame's history as a covert agent and questioned whether she remained one under the definitions in the 1982 statute. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation in September 2003. But with pressure mounting on the administration to appoint an independent counsel, Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation that December and named Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a federal prosecutor in Chicago, to be the special counsel.

Under federal law, prosecutors and grand jurors are sworn to secrecy. And while witnesses are free to discuss their testimony, Fitzgerald has asked witnesses in this case not to comment, a request that administration officials have heeded. Cooper did not.

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