In an effort to quell a chorus of calls to fire deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, Republicans said that Rove originally learned about Valerie Plame's identity from the news media. That exonerates Rove, the Republican Party chairman said, and Democrats should apologize.
But it is not clear that it was a journalist who first revealed the information to Rove.
A lawyer familiar with Rove's grand jury testimony said Sunday 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.
In a first-person account in the latest issue of Time magazine, reporter Matt Cooper wrote that during his grand jury appearance last Wednesday, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald "asked me several different ways if Rove had indicated how he had heard that Plame worked at the CIA." Cooper said Rove did not indicate how he had heard.
The White House's assurance in 2003 that Rove was not involved in the leak of the CIA officer's identity "was a lie," said John Podesta, White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration. He said Rove's credibility "is in shreds."
Until last week, the White House had insisted for nearly two years that Libby and Rove had no connection to the leak. Plame's husband is Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq at the start of the Persian Gulf War.
The White House refused last week to repeat its denials about Rove's involvement. The refusal came amid the disclosure that Rove told Cooper on July 11, 2003, that Wilson's wife apparently worked at the CIA and that she had authorized a trip he took to Africa in 2002. The White House on Sunday declined to comment about Libby, saying the investigation was ongoing.
Five days before Rove spoke with Cooper, Wilson had written a newspaper opinion piece suggesting the administration had twisted prewar intelligence, including a "highly doubtful" report that Saddam bought nuclear materials from Niger.
Libby and Rove were among the unidentified government officials who provided information for a Time story about Wilson, Cooper told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Cooper also said there may have been other government officials who were sources for his article. Time posted "A War on Wilson?" on its Web site on July 17, 2003.
The reporter refused to elaborate about other sources. He said that he has given all information to the grand jury in Washington where he was questioned for 2 1/2 hours.
In his first-person account, Cooper said Rove ended their telephone conversation with the words, "I've already said too much." Cooper speculated that Rove could have been "worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else."
"This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife," Cooper wrote of his phone call with Rove.
Cooper also had a conversation about Wilson and his wife with Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.
According to Cooper, "Libby replied, 'Yeah, I've heard that too' or words to that effect" when Cooper asked if Libby had heard anything about Wilson's wife sending her husband to Niger.
In 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the idea that Rove was involved in leaking information about Wilson's wife was "ridiculous."
The only concession by any Republican in the controversy came from Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking House Republican.
Asked about the White House's previous statements that Rove was not involved, Blunt told CBS News' Face the Nation that spokesmen for the White House "need to be very thoughtful about what they say and be sure that their credibility is sustained."
At the time of the assurances, McClellan said he had checked directly with Rove.
"I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you," McClellan told the press in October 2003. McClellan said then that he had also checked with Libby and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams before saying they were not involved in the leak.
Blunt and Wilson clashed on CBS.
Blunt said many people in Washington understood that Plame worked at the CIA and went to its headquarters every day.
It "certainly wouldn't be the first time that the CIA might have been overzealous in sort of maintaining the kind of top-secret definition on things longer than they needed to," Blunt said.
Wilson pointed out that his wife "was covered according to the CIA, and the CIA made the referral" to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.
Wilson said friends and neighbors of the couple did not know that she worked for the CIA and that they understood her to be "an energy analyst, an energy consultant."
Wilson said his wife was outed in a White House vendetta against him, and that President Bush must fire his adviser.
It's a question of trust with the American people," Wilson told Face the Nation. "I also believe that the president should fire Karl Rove, because I believe that using the West Wing of the White House to be engaged in a smear campaign is an outrageous abuse of power."