WASHINGTON — Top White House aide Karl Rove made his fifth grand jury appearance in the Valerie Plame affair Wednesday, undergoing several hours of questioning about a new issue that has come to light since the last time he testified.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald declined to comment at the conclusion of the grand jury session. Rove appeared at ease as he left the U.S. courthouse, joking to journalists to “move to the back” as the White House aide, his lawyers and several reporters entered an elevator to leave the building.
A week ago, Rove, the architect of Bush’s election victories, gave up his policy duties at the White House. He is returning to a full-time focus on politics with Republicans facing major problems in the upcoming midterm elections.
Wednesday’s session is believed to be only the second time Fitzgerald has met with a new grand jury examining questions left unanswered in the leaking of Plame’s CIA identity. The only other time Fitzgerald was seen going before the new panel was Dec. 7.
The previous grand jury looking into the CIA leak expired Oct. 28, the day it indicted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff on five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI.
Rove’s lawyer spoke with reporter
The only new issue in the CIA leak probe known to involve Rove is a contact his lawyer, Robert Luskin, had with Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak.
The contact is important because during it, the Time reporter told Luskin that Rove might have disclosed Plame’s CIA status in 2003 to another Time reporter, Matt Cooper.
The Luskin-Novak conversation occurred many months before Rove belatedly revealed to the prosecutor that he had spoken with Cooper. Rove says he’d forgotten about his conversation with Cooper.
Rove’s legal problems stem from the fact that it was more than a year into the CIA leak investigation before he revealed the Cooper conversation.
Rove “testified voluntarily and unconditionally at the request of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove’s last appearance,” Luskin said in a statement. “Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.”
NBC News reported last week that the latest court filings refer to Rove as a “subject” of the ongoing grand jury probe, meaning he is still under investigation. But prosecutors have said Rove will not be a government witness, which leaves open the possibility of indictment.
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Several days after Rove’s conversations with conservative columnist Robert Novak and Cooper in July 2003, both the columnist and Cooper wrote stories identifying Plame as a CIA officer.
The exposure of her CIA employment came little more than a week after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate an Iraqi nuclear threat.
Robert Novak is not related to Viveca Novak.
Other unfinished business in the probe focuses on the source who provided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward information about Plame, whose CIA identity was leaked to Novak in July 2003.
Woodward says his source, who he has not publicly identified, provided the information about Wilson’s wife, several weeks before Novak learned of Plame’s identity. The Post reporter, who never wrote a story, was interviewed by Fitzgerald late last year.
NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.