WASHINGTON - After mentioning a CIA operative to a reporter, Bush confidant Karl Rove alerted the president's No. 2 security adviser about the interview and said he tried to steer the journalist away from allegations the operative's husband was making about faulty Iraq intelligence.
The July 11, 2003, e-mail between Rove and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley is the first showing that an intelligence official knew Rove had talked to Matthew Cooper days before the Time magazine reporter wrote an article identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA officer.
"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in an e-mail, recounting how Cooper tried to question him about whether President Bush had been hurt by the new allegations.
The White House turned the e-mail over to prosecutors, and Rove testified to a grand jury about it last year.
Earlier that week, Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had written a newspaper opinion piece accusing the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence, including a "highly doubtful" report that Iraq bought nuclear materials from Niger.
"Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming," Rove wrote in the e-mail to Hadley.
"When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."
Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Hadley, now Bush's national security adviser, said he could not comment because of the criminal investigation. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client answered all the questions prosecutors asked during three grand jury appearances, never invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the president's executive privilege guaranteeing confidential advice from aides.
Rove, Bush's closest adviser, turned over the e-mail as soon as prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into who had leaked Plame's covert work for the CIA.
He later told a grand jury that the e-mail was consistent with his recollection that his intention in talking with Cooper that Friday in July 2003 wasn't to divulge Plame's identity but to caution Cooper against certain allegations Plame's husband was making, according to legal professionals familiar with Rove's testimony.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the grand jury investigation.
Rove sent the e-mail shortly before leaving the White House early for a family vacation that weekend, aware that another journalist he had talked with, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, was planning an article about Plame and Wilson.
Rove knew that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet planned later that day to issue a statement that took responsibility for some bad Iraq intelligence but that also called into question some of Wilson's assertions, the legal sources said.
On Thursday, Rove acknowledged to the grand jury that he talked about Plame with Cooper and Novak before they published their stories but that he originally learned about the operative's identity from the news media, not government sources.
Republicans cheered the latest revelations yesterday, saying they showed that Rove wasn't trying to hurt Plame but was trying to informally tell reporters to be cautious about some of Wilson's claims.
Democrats, however, said that even if Rove wasn't the leaker, someone divulged Plame's identity and possibly violated the law.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders asked Speaker Dennis Hastert yesterday to let Congress hold hearings into the controversy regardless of the criminal investigation under way.
Rove's conversations with Novak and Cooper took place days after Wilson suggested in his opinion piece in The New York Times that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was used to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
Summarizing a trip he made to Africa on behalf of the CIA, Wilson wrote that he'd concluded it was highly doubtful that the nation of Niger had sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq. Tenet issued a lengthy statement five days later saying that he never should have allowed Bush to use the Niger information in his State of the Union address but that Wilson's report did not resolve whether Iraq was seeking uranium from abroad.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun