Karl Rove testified to a grand jury for the fourth and final time Friday, smiling as he emerged from hours of questioning about his possible role in the leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that statements in the summer that Rove retained the president’s confidence remained true. However, McClellan declined repeatedly to utter words of confidence outright.
Prosecutors had warned Rove before his latest grand jury appearance that there was no guarantee he would not be indicted. The grand jury’s term is due to expire Oct. 28.
“Karl continues to do his duties as deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the president,” McClellan said. “What I said previously still stands.”
Rove spent about four and one-half hours inside the federal courthouse, and left without commenting to reporters.
His lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, said Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald “has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges. The special counsel has indicated that he does not anticipate the need for Mr. Rove’s further cooperation.”
Fitzgerald has a variety of options as he weighs whether anyone broke a law that bars the intentional unmasking of a covert CIA officer. Defense lawyers increasingly are concerned Fitzgerald might pursue other charges such as false statements, obstruction of justice or mishandling of classified information.
White House denied Rove's role
Until three months ago, the White House had denied that Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were involved in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame in 2003.
The White House denials gave way to “no comments” following revelations in July that Rove and Libby had been sources for Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in a story that identified Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified twice in recent days about three conversations she had with Libby in June and July 2003 regarding Wilson and Plame.
Cheney on Friday was asked about Libby’s earlier grand jury testimony and conversations with Miller.
“I’m simply not at liberty to discuss the issue. I understand you’ve got to ask those questions, but it is an ongoing investigation and we’re under instructions not to discuss the matter,” Cheney told Fox News Channel.
McClellan told reporters, “The president made it very clear, we’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation. We’re aware of all those things. But we’ve got a lot of work to do and that’s where we’re focused.”
The exposure of Plame’s name came after Wilson publicly criticized the administration, saying it had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq. The criticism came as the U.S. military engaged in a fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The existence of such weapons was the primary reason the administration gave to justify going to war.
Eight days after Wilson made his allegations, columnist Robert Novak identified Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative, saying she had suggested her husband for a mission to Africa for the agency.
Wilson’s trip on behalf of the CIA led ultimately to his conclusion that the administration had manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
Novak said his sources were two senior administration officials. Rove spoke to Novak about Wilson’s wife and is apparently one of Novak’s sources. The other is still a public mystery. Novak is believed to have cooperated with Fitzgerald’s investigation, though he has declined to comment.