Watergate II : indictments : Rove next?


Richard Moore

    Fitzgerald is considering charging Rove with making false
    statements in the course of the 22-month probe, and
    sources close to Rove -- who holds the titles of senior
    adviser and White House deputy chief of staff -- said they
    expect to know within weeks whether the most powerful aide
    in the White House will be accused of a crime.


Rove's Future Role Is Debated 
White House May Seek Fresh Start In Wake of Leak 

By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig 
Washington Post Staff Writers 
Thursday, November 3, 2005; A01 

Top White House aides are privately discussing the future
of Karl Rove, with some expressing doubt that President
Bush can move beyond the damaging CIA leak case as long as
his closest political strategist remains in the

If Rove stays, which colleagues say remains his intention,
he may at a minimum have to issue a formal apology for
misleading colleagues and the public about his role in
conversations that led to the unmasking of CIA operative
Valerie Plame, according to senior Republican sources
familiar with White House deliberations.

While Rove faces doubts about his White House status,
there are new indications that he remains in legal
jeopardy from Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's
criminal investigation of the Plame leak. The prosecutor
spoke this week with an attorney for Time magazine
reporter Matthew Cooper about his client's conversations
with Rove before and after Plame's identity became
publicly known because of anonymous disclosures by White
House officials, according to two sources familiar with
the conversation.

Fitzgerald is considering charging Rove with making false
statements in the course of the 22-month probe, and
sources close to Rove -- who holds the titles of senior
adviser and White House deputy chief of staff -- said they
expect to know within weeks whether the most powerful aide
in the White House will be accused of a crime.

But some top Republicans said yesterday that Rove's
problems may not end there. Bush's top advisers are
considering whether it is tenable for Rove to remain on
the staff, given that Fitzgerald has already documented
something that Rove and White House official spokesmen
once emphatically denied -- that he played a central role
in discussions with journalists about Plame's role at the
CIA and her marriage to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson
IV, a critic of the Iraq war.

"Karl does not have any real enemies in the White House,
but there are a lot of people in the White House wondering
how they can put this behind them if the cloud remains
over Karl," said a GOP strategist who has discussed the
issue with top White House officials. "You can not have
that [fresh] start as long as Karl is there."

A swift resolution is needed in part to ease staff
tension, a number of people inside and out of the White
House said. Many mid-level staffers inside have expressed
frustration that press secretary Scott McClellan's
credibility was undermined by Rove, who told the spokesman
that he was not involved in the leak, according to people
familiar with the case.

Some aides said Rove told Bush the same thing, though
little is known about the precise nature of the
president's conversations with his closest political

McClellan relayed Rove's denial to reporters from the
White House lectern in 2003, and he has not yet offered a
public explanation for his inaccurate statements. "That is
affecting everybody," said a Republican who has discussed
the issue with the White House. "Scott personally is
really beaten down by this. Everybody I talked to talks
about this."

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former
chief of staff, will be arraigned today on five counts,
involving three felony charges, in the leak probe. Libby
also told McClellan two years ago he was not involved, a
denial that was also relayed to the public.

White House communications director Nicolle Wallace said
that there have not been any White House meetings to
discuss Rove's fate, and that the senior adviser is
actively engaged and "doing an outstanding job." She said
"there is no debate" over Rove's future.

Rove has long been regarded as the most influential and
feared Bush aide and has enjoyed the fervent backing of
the president and influential conservatives. Republicans
with firsthand knowledge of the private talks about Rove's
political problems said there have been informal
discussions involving people inside and outside the White
House, and that they reflected the views of a large number
of administration officials who are concerned about Bush's
efforts to start anew in 2006 with as little interference
from the scandal as possible.

In U.S. District Court today, Libby is expected to plead
not guilty to the five-count indictment that charges him
with obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements.

Anticipating intense media interest, court officials
arranged for the arraignment to be held in the oversized
Ceremonial Courtroom, which can seat hundreds and is the
largest courtroom in the federal courthouse here.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, randomly selected
among the trial judges, will preside over Libby's case.
The judge has recently overseen the civil lawsuit of
former bioweapons scientist Stephen J. Hatfill against the
Justice Department for linking him to the 2001 anthrax

Libby, whose friends have begun raising money for his
legal defense fund, is expected to be represented in court
by Joseph A. Tate, a partner in his former law firm. But
intermediaries for Libby have in recent days contacted
several law firms with extensive white-collar criminal
defense experience about possibly representing Libby in
the near future, according to legal sources.

Rove remains in legal limbo.

Fitzgerald made it clear to Rove's attorney in private
conversations last week that his client remains under
investigation. And he signaled the same in his indictment
of Libby on Friday, in which he identified a senior White
House official who had conversations related to the Plame
leak as "Official A." White House colleagues say Rove is
clearly "Official A," based on the detailed description.

That kind of pseudonym is often used by prosecutors to
refer to an unindicted co-conspirator, or someone who
faces the prospect of being charged. No other
administration official is identified in this way in
Fitzgerald's indictment.

Rove was interviewed by FBI agents in the fall of 2003. He
subsequently testified four times before the grand jury,
which legal experts say is an unusually large number of
appearances given that he was told he was a subject of the
investigation and his actions were being scrutinized as
possible criminal violations.

Sources close to Rove say one pressing problem for him is
that he initially did not tell investigators he had a
conversation with Cooper, then he produced an e-mail to a
colleague in which he reported he had spoken to Cooper. He
told the grand jury he could recollect very little of the
conversation other than a discussion of welfare, sources

According to sources who were made aware of the
conservation, Fitzgerald has been speaking with Cooper's
attorney, Richard Sauber, by telephone in the past three
days. He is said to have posed several questions to
clarify whether Cooper had other conversations with Rove
before and after the crucial July 12, 2003, discussion
during which Cooper said Rove told him that Wilson's wife
worked at the CIA.

The aim was apparently to discern how common conversations
were between Rove and the reporter, then a newcomer to the
White House beat. Sauber, reached at his office late
yesterday, declined to comment on any conversations he had
with the prosecutor's team.

Fitzgerald spokesman Randall Samborn declined to comment.

Sources close to Rove said they do not believe the
strategist is in the clear, but are confident the
prosecutor will determine Rove did nothing illegal.

White House critics said Rove's continued presence would
expose Bush as a hypocrite. They cite his campaign promise
in 2000 to run an ethical government that asks "not only
what is legal but what is right" and his 2004 pledge,
later softened, to fire anyone involved in the CIA leak.

Political pressure is rising from the outside. A few
conservatives have suggested it is time for Rove to go.
William A. Niskanen, chairman of the libertarian Cato
Institute, told Reuters on Tuesday that Bush has to
"sacrifice" some top aides starting with Rove, who he said
has given good campaign advice but poor guidance on
getting legislation passed.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said on MSNBC's "Hardball" the
same day, "The question is, should he be the deputy chief
of staff for policy under the current circumstances?"

Democrats have been more blunt. "It is totally
unacceptable that anyone involved in the unauthorized
disclosure of the identity of a CIA officer, including
your Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, should remain
employed at the White House with a security clearance,"
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) wrote Bush

© 2005 The Washington Post Company 


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