WASHINGTON -- I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, was a second source for a Time magazine article that revealed the identity of a covert CIA agent, the magazine reported yesterday, undercutting repeated White House denials.
For two years, the Bush administration has said that neither top presidential adviser Karl Rove nor Libby was involved in identifying Valerie Plame, the covert CIA agent first named in a July 2003 article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
Last week, Rove, Bush's deputy chief of staff, was identified as a confidential source of Time reporter Matthew Cooper and that disclosure led to some Democrats calling for Rove's resignation while others pressed for the revocation of his security clearance. The disclosure also resulted in the White House no longer denying Rove's involvement and instead declining to comment because the matter is under investigation.
The partisan attacks are expected to continue this week with Libby -- a neoconservative and member of the team planning for the war -- being linked again to the story, and as Congress hears testimony backing a federal shield law to protect reporters from testifying about unnamed sources. It was reported last year that Libby waived a confidentiality agreement with Cooper, allowing him to give testimony, but the topic of their conversation was not known.
Republicans continued yesterday to defend Rove. Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, appearing on NBC's ''Meet the Press," argued that Rove learned of Plame's identity from journalists, and that Democrats are attacking Rove based on information that exonerates Rove. Mehlman said Democrats owe Rove an apology.
A lawyer familiar with Rove's grand jury testimony told the Associated Press yesterday that Rove learned about the CIA officer either from the media or from someone in government who said the information came from a journalist. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because the federal investigation is continuing.
Also appearing on ''Meet the Press," John Podesta, chief of staff during the Clinton administration, said if Rove had ''an ounce of character," he would resign. ''Mr. Rove has created a tremendous credibility problem for this White House, for this president, for this country on a matter of utmost national security," he said. ''The one thing that is unassailable at the end of this week is that Mr. Rove did not tell the truth in 2003."
In a first-person article about his grand jury testimony in this week's issue of Time, Cooper said he called Rove about Joseph C. Wilson IV, author of a New York Times op-ed article on his mission to Niger in which he found no evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to procure uranium to make nuclear weapons. The Bush administration justified going to war in Iraq as necessary to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and Wilson's article said it twisted intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
Critics of the administration have charged that Plame's cover was deliberately leaked as retribution for Wilson's article. Knowingly revealing the identity of covert personnel is a felony.
During the conversation with Rove, Cooper learned that Wilson's wife -- whom Rove did not name -- worked at the CIA on weapons of mass destruction and that she -- not Cheney -- was responsible for sending Wilson to Africa. Rove ended the call by saying he had ''already said too much," though Cooper was not sure what he meant.
The next day, Cooper repeated details gleaned from Rove to Libby. According to Cooper's article in this week's Time, Libby, speaking on the record, denied Cheney had any role in or knowledge of Wilson's trip to Niger. At one point, when the conversation was on background, Cooper asked about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger. ''Libby replied, 'Yeah, I've heard that, too,' or words to that effect," according to the article. His article reveals the ''microscopic, excruciating detail" sought by the grand jury and special prosecutor in his 2 1/2 hours of testimony Wednesday and echoes comments he made yesterday on news shows.
Meanwhile, investigators, in an effort to determine the source of the leak, are focusing on a 2003 State Department memo that details why Wilson was chosen for the trip and what role Plame played in his selection, according to reports in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak, has focused on a classified memo and meeting notes sent by State Department officials to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Los Angeles Times reported. The day after Wilson's op-ed article was published, Bush traveled to Africa on Air Force One. Powell, also on Air Force One, had a copy of the classified documents. The New York Times reported that Powell was walking around the aircraft with the memo in his hands. Cooper wrote that he first spoke to the special prosecutor in August 2004, giving ''limited testimony" in his attorney's office about his interview with Libby. ''Like Rove, Libby never used Valerie Plame's name or indicated that her status was covert, and he never told me that he had heard about Plame from other reporters," Cooper wrote.
Cooper's account of his grand jury testimony, which he gave last week, said Fitzgerald's questions hinted at the investigation's direction. ''He asked me several different ways if Rove indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA," Cooper wrote. ''(He did not, I told the grand jury.) Maybe Fitzgerald is interested in whether Rove knew her CIA ties through a person or through a document," Cooper wrote.
Cooper's notes and e-mail messages turned over to the special prosecutor by Time -- over the reporter's objections -- indicate that Rove told him ''material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and his findings." Speaking on ''Meet the Press," Cooper said there may have been government officials other than Rove and Libby who were sources for his article. Asked on CNN's ''Reliable Sources" about a third unnamed administration source, ''a policy person in Africa," Cooper declined comment.
Cooper wrote that sitting before the grand jury, which hears testimony in secret, he was struck by the mostly African-American, mostly female group and their inquisitiveness as they sat in black vinyl chairs and at desks ''as if it were a shabby classroom at a rundown college." Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller fought such testimony to the Supreme Court. They lost. Miller remains jailed in Alexandria, Va.
Cooper wrote that he was surprised to be questioned extensively about welfare reform, a reporting topic he shelved in favor of the Wilson story. ''To me, this suggested that Rove may have testified that we had talked about welfare reform," Cooper wrote.
Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, declined comment yesterday.
This week, Cooper will testify before Congress on behalf of a federal shield law that could have helped him avoid testifying before the grand jury.
For the most part, Republicans have stood firm behind the White House. Yesterday, however, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking House Republican, appeared on CBS's ''Face the Nation." Responding to a question about the administration's previous denials of Rove's involvement, Blunt said the administration needs ''to be very thoughtful about what they say and be sure that their credibility is sustained."
© 2005 Boston Globe