White House Stands By Rove

The White House is standing by Karl Rove, whose role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity has prompted Democrats to call for dismissal of the president's top political adviser.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, a key figure in the Rove controversry, showed up at U.S. District Court on Wednesday. The grand jury investigating the leak was meeting and it was expected Cooper would testify. He did not comment while entering the courthouse.

Cooper wrote an article in 2003 in which he identified the officer as Valerie Plame. It was disclosed this week that the story ran after a July 11, 2003, conversation with Rove during which the political adviser discussed Plame but not by name.

Cooper had refused to reveal his source for the story but agreed to do so after a confidentiality agreement was waived. That came just before Cooper could have been sent to jail for not cooperating with the investigation into who in the Bush administration leaked her name and whether that constituted a crime.

Another reporter, Judith Miller of The New York Times, is in prison after refusing to disclose her source to investigators.

In September and October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he had spoken to Rove about the Plame matter and that Rove wasn't involved in the leak. McClellan refused for a second day Tuesday to discuss the denials of two years ago, saying that to do so would impinge on the ongoing criminal investigation of the leak.

But

points out that the investigation was already under way when the White House first defended Rove, and when the president vowed to fire anyone caught leaking.

President Bush ignored a question Tuesday about whether he would fire Rove now that it's known his adviser did talk to Cooper. But McClellan said later that "any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president." McClellan said that includes Rove.

First lady Laura Bush, talking to reporters while traveling in Africa on Wednesday, called Rove "a very good friend" whom the Bushes have known for many years.

"It would be irresponsible for me to speculate on any of it," she said, "so I think I'll leave the speculation to you all and I'll leave the investigation" to the prosecutor.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said Rove did not disclose Valerie Plame's name, a point that Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., called a distinction without a difference.

"The fact that he didn't give her name, but identified the ambassador's wife ... doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who that is," Biden said on CNN's "Inside Politics." "If that occurred, at a minimum, that was incredibly bad judgment, warranting him being asked to leave."

Mr. Bush said last year he would fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's name. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said it's time for Rove to leave.

White House allies weighed in, with expressions of support for Rove from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman said Rove was the victim of partisan political attacks by Democrats.

An e-mail by Cooper that surfaced over the weekend in Newsweek magazine said Rove spoke of the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson as being someone who apparently works at the CIA and who arranged a trip for her husband to Africa.

Cooper's e-mail said Rove warned him away from the idea that Wilson's trip had been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney.

The RNC chairman said Rove "was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise."

Rove's conversation with Cooper took place five days after Plame's husband suggested in a New York Times op-ed piece that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Eight days after the op-ed piece, Plame's name and her connection to the CIA first appeared in a newspaper column by Robert Novak.

The column said two administration officials told Novak that Wilson's wife had suggested sending him to investigate whether Iraq had tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Cooper's byline appeared on an article a few days later naming Plame.

CBS News National Political Correspondent Gloria Borger said the matter is now "a true embarrassment" for the White House.

Borger said big questions remain. "Where did Karl Rove get his information? How far up the chain of command does this go? Who knew that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the agency? And who told Karl and who told others in the administration? That's sort of a mystery that we have yet to find out."