Rove told grand jurors it was possible he first heard in the White House that Valerie Plame, wife of Bush administration Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA from Libby's recounting of a conversation with a journalist, according to people familiar with his testimony.
They said Rove testified that his discussions with Libby before Plame's CIA cover was blown were limited to information reporters had passed to them. Some evidence prosecutors have gathered conflicts with Libby's account.
Rove is deputy White House chief of staff and President Bush's closest political adviser. Libby is Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald must determine whether the contacts between the two men concerning Plame's CIA work were part of an effort to undercut her husband's criticism of the Iraq war or simply the trading of information and rumors that typically occurs inside the White House.
The prosecutor also is examining whether any witnesses gave false testimony or withheld information from the investigation. His spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined to comment Wednesday.
The Rove-Libby contacts were confirmed to The Associated Press by people directly familiar with testimony the two witnesses gave before the grand jury. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the proceedings.
Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate, did not return repeated phone calls this week seeking comment.
Rove and Libby have emerged as central figures in Fitzgerald's investigation because both had contacts with reporters who ultimately disclosed Plame's work for the CIA. Federal law prohibits government officials from knowingly disclosing the identity if intelligence operatives.
Those familiar with the testimony and evidence said that:
During one of his grand jury appearances, Rove was shown testimony from Libby suggesting the two had discussed with each other information they had gotten about Wilson's wife from reporters in early July 2003.
Rove responded that Libby's testimony was consistent with his general recollection that he had first learned Wilson's wife worked for the CIA from reporters or government officials who had talked with reporters.
Rove testified that he never intended any of his comments to reporters about Wilson's wife to serve as confirmation of Plame's identity. Rove "has always clearly left open that he first heard this information from Libby," said one person directly familiar with Rove's grand jury testimony.
That person said Rove testified he believes he heard general information about Wilson's wife on two occasions before he talked with reporters in July 2003 and then learned her name from syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
Rove testified he probably first heard of Wilson's wife in a casual social setting outside the White House in the spring of 2003 but could not remember who provided the information.