WASHINGTON — Top White House aide Karl Rove has been told by prosecutors he won’t be charged with any crimes in the investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity, his lawyer said Tuesday, lifting a heavy burden from one of President Bush’s most trusted advisers.
Attorney Robert Luskin said that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald informed him of the decision on Monday, ending months of speculation about the fate of Rove, the architect of Bush’s 2004 re-election now focused on stopping Democrats from capturing the House or Senate in this November’s elections.
Fitzgerald has already secured a criminal indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
Bush called Fitzgerald “a very thorough person” who conducted the investigation in a dignified way.
“It’s a chapter that has ended,” Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington from Baghdad. “I think it’s going to be important for you all to recognize there’s still a trial to be had. And those of us involved in the White House are going to be very mindful of not commenting on this issue ... because of the Libby trial.”
The announcement cheered Republicans and a White House beleaguered by war and low approval ratings. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Rove, said Rove “is elated” and said that “we’re done.”
No comment on the investigation
Fitzgerald met with chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan before he notified Rove. Hogan has been overseeing the grand juries in the CIA leak case. Fitzgerald’s spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined comment. Asked if the CIA leak investigation is still continuing, Samborn said, “I’m not commenting on that as well at this time.”
The prosecutor called Luskin late Monday afternoon to tell him he would not be seeking charges against Rove. Rove had just gotten on a plane, so his lawyer and spokesman did not reach him until he had landed in Manchester, N.H., where he was to give a speech to state GOP officials.
“We believe the special counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct,” Luskin said.
Fitzgerald has been investigating whether senior administration officials intentionally leaked the identity of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame in retribution because her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, sharply criticized the administration’s pursuit of war in Iraq.
Rove testified five times before a grand jury, most recently in April. He has admitted he spoke with columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in the days before they published Plame’s name in July 2003.
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Rove, however, did not originally tell prosecutors about his conversation with Cooper, revealing it only after his lawyer discovered a White House e-mail that referred to it.
Rove blamed faulty memory
Fitzgerald was investigating whether Rove lied or obstructed justice in failing to initially disclose the conversation. The presidential aide blamed a faulty memory and sought to testify before the grand jury after finding the e-mail to correct his testimony.
The threat of indictment had hung over Rove, even as Rove was focusing on the arduous task of halting Bush’s popularity spiral and keeping Democrats from capturing the House or Senate in November elections.
Fitzgerald’s investigation has been under way since the start of the 2004 election, and the decision not to indict Rove is certain to buoy Republicans, who also got good news in the last week with the military’s killing of most-wanted Iraq terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“The fact is this, I thought it was wrong when you had people like Howard Dean and (Sen.) Harry Reid presuming that he was guilty,” Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman told Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” show Tuesday morning.
Democrats, on the other hand, had no reason to cheer.
“He doesn’t belong in the White House. If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago,” said Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, speaking Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it’s not very good news for America.”
Bush’s support system
Rove has been at Bush’s side since his days as Texas governor and was the architect of Bush’s two presidential election victories. Rove assumed new policy responsibilities inside the White House in 2005 as deputy chief of staff. Earlier this year, as part of the shake-up brought by new White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, Rove shed those policy-making duties to return to full time politics.
Fitzgerald’s case against Libby is moving toward trial, as the two sides work through pretrial issues such as access to classified documents.
Libby, 55, was charged last October with lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned and when he subsequently told three reporters about Plame. He faces five counts of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice.
With Rove’s fate now decided, other unfinished business in Fitzgerald’s probe focuses on the source who provided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward information about Plame.
Woodward says his source, whom 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.
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