WASHINGTON — Columnist Robert Novak said publicly for the first time today that White House political adviser Karl Rove was a source for his story outing the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
In today's syndicated column, Novak said he learned of Plame's CIA employment from a source he still refuses to publicly identify, and then confirmed the information with Rove and then-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, whose roles in talking to Novak have been previously reported.
Novak said for the first time that prosecutors looking into the leaks already knew his sources when he agreed to disclose them. He also said his recollection of his conversation with Rove differed from what the Rove camp has said.
"I have revealed Rove's name because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection," Novak wrote. Novak did not elaborate.
A spokesman for Rove's legal team, Mark Corallo, said that Rove did not know Plame's name at the time he spoke with Novak, that the columnist called Rove, not the other way around, and that Rove simply said he had heard the same information that Novak passed along to him regarding Plame.
"There was not much of a difference" between the recollections of Rove and Novak, said Corallo.
Novak said he was talking now because Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald told the columnist's lawyer that after 2½ years his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to Novak had been concluded.
Triggering the criminal investigation into who leaked Plame's name to the news media, Novak revealed Plame's CIA employment on July 14, 2003, in his column. That was eight days after her husband, White House critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction.
Initially refusing to identify his sources to the FBI, Novak said he knew that Fitzgerald had obtained signed waivers from every official who might have provided Novak information about Plame. Despite that, Novak said he was prepared to resist. He said he relented in early 2004 when it became clear that Fitzgerald "knew the names of my sources."
Novak could still have protected his sources, but his lawyer told him "I was sure to lose a case in the courts at great expense."
In contrast to other reporters whose news organizations footed the bill for lengthy and expensive legal battles, the fact that Novak was a no-show in contentious court proceedings fed a rumor mill.
"I have cooperated in the investigation while trying to protect journalistic privileges under the First Amendment and shield sources who have not revealed themselves," Novak wrote in today's column. "I have been subpoenaed by and testified to a federal grand jury. Published reports that I took the Fifth Amendment, made a plea bargain with the prosecutors or was a prosecutorial target were all untrue."
Instead, Novak was cooperating with prosecutors, and taking a beating in public for not talking about it.
Keeping quiet had the effect of providing protection for the Bush administration during the 2004 presidential campaign, because the White House had denied Rove played any role in the leak of Plame's CIA identity.
As Rove's legal problems grew a year ago, Bush said he stood by his earlier pledge to "fire anybody" in his administration shown to have leaked Plame's name. His press secretary, after checking with Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis Libby, assured the public then that neither man had anything to do with the leak.
In today's syndicated column, Novak said he told Fitzgerald in early 2004 that Rove and then-CIA spokesman Harlow had confirmed information about Plame.
Contacted last night, Harlow declined to comment.
In his column, Novak said he also told Fitzgerald about another senior administration official who originally provided him with information about Plame. Novak said he cannot publicly reveal the identity of that source even now.
“In my sworn testimony, I said what I have contended in my columns and on television: Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger," Novak wrote. "After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.
“Following my interview with the primary source, I sought out the second administration official and the CIA spokesman for confirmation.
“I learned Valerie Plame's name from Joe Wilson's entry in Who's Who in America.
“I considered his wife's role in initiating Wilson's mission, later confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be a previously undisclosed part of an important news story. I reported it on that basis."
Rove's role in the scandal wasn't revealed until last summer when Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper disclosed that Rove had leaked him the identity of Wilson's wife. Cooper cooperated with prosecutors after all his legal appeals were exhausted and he faced jail.
Although Rove was not indicted, Libby has been charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of the covert CIA officer's identity and what he told reporters about it.