A federal prosecutor questioned former top presidential aide Karl Rove for several hours on Friday, trying to determine his precise role in the Bush administration's politically tinged firings of U.S. attorneys.
It was the first time Rove has faced questioning in the controversy, which erupted in 2007 and has lingered because the Bush White House resisted efforts by Congress and the Justice Department to question Rove and others.
In Friday's session, Rove and the prosecutor who interviewed him, acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, declined to comment as they left the offices of Rove's lawyer separately.
It is conceivable Rove may have to undergo further questioning.
"He has nothing to hide and plans to answer any further questions" the prosecutor might have, said Rebecca Carr, a spokeswoman for Patton Boggs, the law firm where the meeting took place. Rove was inside the law offices for about five hours.
Carr said Rove "fully cooperated in trying to answer all of her questions."
"I don't think it was a confrontational interview," said Carr. "I think he was trying really hard to work with them."
So far, the investigation has turned on whether then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other Justice Department officials told the truth about the dismissals, which e-mail traffic suggests may have originated at the White House.
Some Justice Department officials at first claimed the U.S. attorneys were let go because of poor performance.
Rove, the president's top political adviser, inquired in early January 2005 about firing U.S. attorneys, according to previously released e-mails between White House and Justice Department officials.
A Justice Department inquiry that wrapped up in late 2008 concluded that political considerations played a role in the firings of as many as four of the U.S. attorneys. Nine U.S. attorneys in all were fired in 2006.
U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, but cannot be fired for improper reasons.
Rove's meeting with Dannehy was his first session with federal prosecutors since his five grand jury appearances in the Valerie Plame affair, a scandal that dogged the second term of Bush's presidency.
It resulted in the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff for perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about the outing of the CIA identity of Plame, the wife of Bush administration war critic Joseph Wilson.
Rove also came under investigation when evidence emerged that he had participated in administration leaks of Plame's CIA identity to Newsweek magazine and to conservative columnist Robert Novak.
In the firing of U.S. attorneys, the Justice Department inquiry recommended a criminal investigation, saying the lack of cooperation by Rove and other senior administration officials left gaps in their findings that should be investigated further.
Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey responded by naming Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut, as special prosecutor in September.