WASHINGTON – Months before Karl Rove corrected his statements in the Valerie Plame investigation, his lawyer was told that the presidential aide might have disclosed Plame's CIA status to Time reporter Matt Cooper, the magazine reported Sunday.
Rove says he had forgotten the conversation with Cooper. But in the first half of 2004, as President Bush's re-election campaign was heating up, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, got the word about a possible Rove-Cooper conversation from Time reporter Viveca Novak.
Novak described her conversation with Luskin in a first-person account posted on the magazine's Web site. In an e-mail, Luskin declined to comment.
Six weeks ago, in a so-far successful effort to avert Rove's indictment, Luskin disclosed his conversation with Novak to the prosecutor in the case, who was contemplating whether to seek charges against Rove. Rove remains under investigation.
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald questioned Novak under oath Thursday, the day after the prosecutor began presenting evidence to a new grand jury considering evidence in the leak investigation.
A previous grand jury expired Oct. 28, the day Fitzgerald obtained an indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. Libby resigned and has pleaded not guilty.
Fitzgerald is investigating who in the Bush administration leaked Plame's CIA status to the news media in 2003 as Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence on Iraq.
In her first-person account in the magazine, Novak says Luskin appeared surprised when she said she was hearing a Rove-Cooper conversation about Wilson's wife might have taken place.
Novak wrote that she made the comment in reaction to a statement by Luskin to the effect that "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt."
"I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me," Novak recalled in her published account. Novak wrote that she told Luskin "something like, 'Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around Time.' He looked surprised and very serious." Novak said the conversation with Luskin occurred anywhere from January 2004 to May 2004.
It wasn't until October 2004 -- sometime between five months and nine months after Novak's conversation with Luskin -- that Rove disclosed his conversation with Cooper to the prosecutor.
Rove's disclosure to the prosecutor followed Luskin's discovery of a White House e-mail from July 11, 2003, from Rove to then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley referring to the conversation that day with Cooper.
It is not known publicly whether Fitzgerald's investigators had the e-mail and simply overlooked it or whether the White House had not produced the e-mail for the prosecutor.
By the time Rove stepped forward to disclose the Cooper conversation to investigators, the reporter was under intense pressure from the prosecutor to reveal the original source of his information that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
Five months ago, his court appeals exhausted and after receiving a waiver from Rove, Cooper finally disclosed that his source had been the president's top political adviser.
Time reporter that by mutual agreement, Novak currently is on a leave of absence.