Time magazine writer may have aided Rove's defense

Reporter Viveca Novak is latest journalist entangled in CIA leak case

December 12, 2005|By RICHARD B. SCHMITT | RICHARD B. SCHMITT,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A Time magazine correspondent acknowledged yesterday that she might have unwittingly aided the defense of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation by telling the White House aide's lawyer about a conversation Rove had with one of her colleagues about CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The tip, offered over drinks at a Washington restaurant sometime during the first half of 2004, apparently led Rove to correct testimony he had given to a federal grand jury in the case, according to a first-person account by Time reporter Viveca Novak, posted yesterday on the magazine's Web site.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is trying to determine whether Rove might have lied to investigators about a conversation he had two years ago about Plame with Matthew Cooper, then Time's White House correspondent. Fitzgerald has obtained an indictment of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. on perjury and other charges. People close to Rove contend that he forgot about the conversation with Cooper until Novak's remark jogged his memory.

The Time report is the latest entanglement for journalists in the two-year investigation into whether Bush administration officials broke any laws by disclosing Plame's identity to reporters in the summer of 2003.

Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was an outspoken critic of the way the administration used intelligence in the decision to invade Iraq. Some of Plame's jobs at the CIA had required her to work undercover, and it can -- under certain circumstances -- be a federal crime to disclose the identity of a covert operative.

In her online account, Novak, a Time legal affairs reporter since 1996, said she had been interviewed twice by Fitzgerald, most recently for 90 minutes Thursday.

She also revealed that her editors were not told about her discussions with Rove's lawyer until last month, after her first interview with Fitzgerald -- a decision that she says she now regrets. The magazine said that "by mutual agreement," she had taken a paid leave of absence, effective immediately.

Plame's name first surfaced in a July 2003 article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who is not related to the Time reporter. She was also identified around the same time in an article Cooper wrote for Time's Web site. Rove has acknowledged being a source for both reports but, through his lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, has denied breaking any laws.

Viveca Novak wrote in her Web account that she had a conversation with Luskin between January and May 2004 in which the question of whether Rove was a source for Cooper came up. According to Novak, Luskin asserted that Rove was not a source for Cooper, although she said that in raising the issue she did not believe she was telling Luskin anything that he did not already know.

"I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, `Are you sure about that? That's not what I heard around Time,'" Novak wrote, adding that she was "taken aback" when Luskin seemed to take her comments seriously.

"I had been pushing back against what I thought was his attempt to lead me astray. ... I hadn't intended to tip Luskin off to anything," she wrote, adding that "if I could have a do-over, I would have kept my mouth shut."

She said she later learned that her remark led Luskin to conduct an intensive search for evidence that Rove and Cooper had talked. That turned up an e-mail in which Rove acknowledged the conversation. Luskin subsequently turned the e-mail over to Fitzgerald; Rove finally told the grand jury in October 2004 that he had indeed spoken with Cooper.

Then, in late October of this year, just before the grand jury's expiration, Luskin is believed to have offered his conversation with Novak as evidence that Rove had innocently forgotten that he had spoken with Cooper. Around the same time, he informed Novak that Fitzgerald might call her.

Novak said that, along with her lawyer, she met with the prosecutor for two hours Nov. 10. She said she did not tell her editors about the meeting because she hoped it would turn out to be an "insignificant twist" in the investigation. She said that when Fitzgerald requested a second meeting, in which she was to testify under oath, she decided to inform them.

Novak said she was unable to discern the impact of her testimony on the case. "Will it make the difference between whether Rove gets indicted or not? I have no idea," she said.

Luskin declined to comment.

Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time, said in an interview yesterday that Novak's story "speaks for itself."

"She admits she made mistakes, and she regrets them, and I don't disagree with her assessment," Kelly said.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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