WASHINGTON — Now that Karl Rove won’t be indicted, now that the president won’t fire him, now that it really doesn’t matter anymore, more details of the Valerie Plame leak investigation trickle out.
In his latest syndicated column released Wednesday, columnist Robert Novak revealed his side of the story in the Plame affair, saying Rove was a confirming source for Novak’s story outing the CIA officer, underscoring Rove’s role in a leak President Bush once promised to punish.
The columnist said he learned of Plame’s CIA employment from a source he still refuses to publicly identify, and then confirmed with Rove and then-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, whose roles in talking to Novak have been previously reported.
Novak said for the first time that prosecutors looking into the leaks already knew his sources when he agreed to disclose them.
Novak comes late to the Plame game, long after several other reporters talked publicly about the involvement of Rove and of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, in leaking the CIA identity of the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. Novak says he kept his mouth shut so long because prosecutors asked him to.
Free to speak now
A month ago, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said he didn’t anticipate seeking charges against Rove. Novak wrote that, more recently, Fitzgerald told his lawyer that after 2½ years his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to Novak has been concluded, freeing him to talk now.
Triggering the criminal investigation that resulted in Libby being charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI, Novak revealed Plame’s CIA employment on July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband went on the attack against the Bush administration.
Initially refusing to identify his sources to the FBI, Novak knew that Fitzgerald had obtained signed waivers from every official who might have provided Novak information about Plame. Despite that, Novak was prepared to resist. He says he relented in early 2004 when it became clear that Fitzgerald “knew the names of my sources.”
Novak could still have protected his sources, but his lawyer told him “I was sure to lose a case in the courts at great expense.”
In contrast to other reporters whose news organizations footed the bill for lengthy and expensive legal battles, the fact that Novak was a no-show in contentious court proceedings fed a rumor mill.
“Published reports that I took the Fifth Amendment, made a plea bargain with the prosecutors or was a prosecutorial target were all untrue,” Novak writes. The facts were simpler. He was telling prosecutors everything he knew, and taking a beating in public for not talking about it.
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Bush White House protected
Keeping quiet had the effect of providing protection for the Bush White House during the 2004 presidential campaign, because the White House had denied Rove played any role in the leak of Plame’s CIA identity.
As Rove’s legal problems grew a year ago, Bush said he stood by his pledge to “fire anybody” in his administration shown to have leaked Valerie Plame’s name. His press secretary, after checking with Rove and Libby, assured the public that neither man had anything to do with the leak.
Now that he’s finally opening up, Novak is stirring up more trouble, saying without elaboration that his recollection of his conversation with Rove about Plame differs from Rove’s. Rove’s spokesman says the difference amounts to very little.
“I have revealed Rove’s name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection,” Novak wrote. Novak did not elaborate.
A spokesman for Rove’s legal team, Mark Corallo, said that Rove did not even know Plame’s name at the time he spoke with Novak, that the columnist called Rove, not the other way around, and that Rove simply replied he had heard the same information that Novak passed along to him regarding Plame.
“There was not much of a difference” between the recollections of Rove and Novak, said Corallo.
Novak says he told Fitzgerald that Harlow of the CIA had confirmed information about Plame.
Harlow declined to comment Tuesday night. But a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the matter denied that Harlow had been a confirming source for Novak on the story. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Harlow repeatedly tried to talk Novak out of running the information about Plame and that Harlow’s efforts did not in any way constitute confirming Plame’s CIA identity.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Harlow may end up being a witness in a separate part of Fitzgerald’s investigation, the upcoming criminal trial of Libby.
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