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Rove Said to Have Confirmed Plame's Identity


Presidential adviser and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove has earned a rare degree of recognition for an American political strategist. President Bush has hailed Rove as the architect of his successful career. But this week Rove had attention of another kind. He became the focus of a messy story about leaks to the press, a reporter in jail and a CIA operative whose name was made public, possibly in violation of federal law. President Bush once vowed to fire anyone involved in leaking such information to the media. For now, though, he is standing by Karl Rove. More from NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The questions persist. Did Karl Rove out the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson as revenge for Wilson's criticism of the president on Iraq? Rove, through his attorney, confirms he had conversations with reporters about the woman, one-time CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame, but Rove insists that he never used her name. And the Associated Press reports today, citing a source close to the investigation, that when Rove testified before the grand jury he said he had learned her name from reporters calling him. We know he talked to Time magazine's Matt Cooper, who testified after Rove gave him permission. The New York Times' Judith Miller is in jail for refusing to testify.

The investigation is ongoing, but the questions about Rove have burst into the headlines this week. Did the president's most important adviser break the law or, short of that, was there an ethical lapse in having the conversations he had about an employee of the CIA? And does any of this cross a line that President Bush himself said should not be crossed when, on his very first full day in office in January of 2001, he said this to brand-new White House senior staff members gathered in the East Room.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems.

GONYEA: Such pronouncements are typical of presidents when they first take office and often sources of embarrassment later. This case began in 2002 when Ambassador Wilson was sent to the African nation of Niger to look into allegations that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium there for use in weapons of mass destruction. He reported back that there was no substance to the claim, but later the administration still used the claim as part of its rationale for going to war. On July 6, 2003, Wilson went public in an op-ed column in The New York Times. Eight days later, July 14th, 2003, Wilson's wife and her CIA job were revealed by newspaper columnist Robert Novak. Wilson called in retribution and pointed the finger at Rove. Press Secretary Scott McClellan denied the charges. Here he is in September 2003.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): Bob made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place and I said it is simply not true. So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've said that it's not true, and I have spoken with Karl Rove.

GONYEA: Rove has not talked publicly about the case or his involvement in it. All this week there have been calls from Democrats and other administration critics that Rove be fired.

(Soundbite of a protest rally)

GONYEA: This is from a protest organized by the group MoveOn.org outside the White House yesterday. The president's backers, meanwhile, have launched a counterattack on Ambassador Wilson, calling him a partisan and questioning his version of events. Press secretary Scott McClellan this week said that Rove has the full confidence of the president. Mr. Bush, however, has not uttered those words himself. Talking to reporters Wednesday, his words were more measured.

Pres. BUSH: We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed.

GONYEA: Still, prior to a trip to Indianapolis, yesterday the president, who usually walks alone to the helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House, made that walk with Karl Rove conspicuously at his side. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

NORRIS: And if you're having trouble keeping up with the twists and turns in this case, there is an analysis and a time line at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.