Rove testifies for a fourth time

Grand jury in CIA leak inquiry nears end

findings expected soon


WASHINGTON -- Amid rising anxiety in Republican circles, presidential adviser Karl Rove made a fourth appearance yesterday before a federal grand jury investigating the CIA leak case as prosecutors neared a decision on whether to charge Rove or anyone else.

One of President Bush's oldest and most trusted advisers, Rove spent more than four hours behind closed doors in the federal courthouse in what amounted to a final attempt by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to clarify his role in the politically charged affair.

He left by a side entrance without commenting to reporters. His attorney later issued a statement that he had testified voluntarily and had not been notified he was a target in the case, and that the prosecutor indicated the appearance would be his last. The statement also said Fitzgerald told Rove he had not decided whether to seek his indictment.

Rove has come under a cloud of suspicion because of conversations he had with journalists in the summer of 2003 about CIA operative Valerie Plame days before Plame was "outed" as a covert agent by columnist Robert Novak. Rove's appearance before the grand jury yesterday was the first since those conversations - with Novak and Time correspondent Matthew Cooper - came to light over the summer.

Yesterday's testimony culminated a week in which Fitzgerald signaled that he was bringing to a close his 22-month investigation into whether anyone in the Bush White House committed crimes in the naming of Plame. Rove's testimony followed an appearance Wednesday by New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whom Fitzgerald called before the grand jury a second time to answer questions about previously undisclosed conversations she had with vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

With the grand jury that Fitzgerald has been using set to expire in two weeks, there is a growing belief that the prosecutor will announce his findings soon, rather than extend the term of the panel. Some people close to the case said they have been asked questions by Fitzgerald's office recently that suggested he was fact-checking a document, although the nature of the document was unclear.

The prosecutor could be preparing indictments - or a report detailing why he sees no grounds to bring charges. The same people who have been asked for information say Fitzgerald set yesterday as a deadline for responding to at least some questions.

Fitzgerald left the courthouse declining to answer reporters' questions.

It is a felony under federal law to intentionally disclose the name of a covert CIA officer. Defense lawyers believe Fitzgerald may also be considering charges such as false statements, obstruction of justice or mishandling of classified information.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to answer specific questions about Rove but said the White House staff was deliberately ignoring the distractions.

Despite the assessment, there is a jittery mood in Republican Washington and a widespread belief that the long-running investigation is taking a toll.

Rove has organized the White House in a way that "is Rove-centric," as one former White House official put it. If he were indicted and had to depart, it would leave a vacuum of power, influence and organization.

The revelations that Rove talked with reporters about Plame came after he had previously denied knowing the identity of Plame or leaking it to anyone.

Fitzgerald has been examining whether the White House exposed Plame in an effort to discredit her husband, former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, who criticized the administration for the intelligence it used to launch the war in Iraq in a July 6, 2003, article in The New York Times. Plame's name surfaced eight days later in a Novak column, and in a subsequent article on

Richard B. Schmitt and Tom Hamburger write for the Los Angeles Times.

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