Rove returns to grand jury

Lawyer says prosecutor hasn't made decision yet on charges


WASHINGTON -- Presidential adviser Karl Rove was called again before a federal grand jury yesterday, a surprise appearance signaling that a perjury and obstruction investigation into his role in a CIA leak case remains alive.

As the White House was introducing a new press spokesman in an attempt to put a new face on a troubled administration, Rove testified for three hours before the grand jury at the U.S. courthouse in Washington. A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, is investigating whether Rove lied to investigators in connection with the summer 2003 disclosure of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The appearance - Rove's fifth before a grand jury in the case - comes six months after a previous grand jury expired without indicting Rove, raising expectations among his supporters that he would not be charged in the case. That grand jury indicted another top Bush Administration aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whose trial on perjury and obstruction charges is set to begin in January.

Robert D. Luskin, Rove's lawyer, said yesterday that Fitzgerald had made no decision on whether to bring charges against Rove. Some legal experts said the timing and circumstances of Rove's latest testimony, which Luskin said was given "voluntarily and unconditionally," suggested that an indictment was not necessarily imminent and that the development could even be viewed as positive for Rove.

Luskin said the subject of Rove's testimony yesterday involved a matter that has arisen since he last testified in October. It is believed to involve the chain of events that followed a belatedly disclosed conversation between Luskin and a Time magazine reporter about Rove's contact with another Time reporter.

The lawyer added that Fitzgerald has continued to advise Rove that he is not a "target" of the investigation, a legal distinction that refers to a formal notification prosecutors give suspects about to be charged.

Fitzgerald declined to talk to reporters as he left the courthouse.

The grand jury appearance comes just a week after the presidential adviser was relieved of his policy responsibilities at the White House to focus full-time on electoral politics.

At the time of the change in Rove's portfolio, White House aides said it was part of a broader reorganization, not related to Rove's continuing legal vulnerability.

Coincidentally or not, last week's action helped inoculate the White House against Rove's latest appearance before the grand jury.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan - whose resignation was announced as part of last week's White House reorganization, declined to answer any questions about the grand jury appearance.

"I have no new information on that matter and even if I did have new information I wouldn't be in a position to share it with you, " said McClellan. "This administration remains focused on the priorities of the American people."

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

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