Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why did it take two and one half years for Robert Novak to disclose details of his co-operation with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?

In contast to Novak, virtually all of the other journalists who have testified before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case wrote or talked publicly about their cooperation usually within days of their testimony.

Novak himself writes in his column for tomorrow morning: "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that after two and one half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has concluded. That [finally] frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry...."

Unlike the other journalists that had testified simply as witnesses, federal investigators working the case had concerns that Novak may have worked with Rove to devise a cover story to protect Rove, as I first reported in May. If Rove had been charged by the grand jury, Novak would have been a crucial witness against Rove. And Novak himself was reportedly under suspicion by the prosecutor. But when the special prosecutor informed Rove that he would not bring charges against him, it was unlikely that Novak would ever be a witness in the CIA leak case. Thus, Fitzgerald informed the columnist that he not have to remain silent any longer.

Here is part of what I wrote about all of this way back in May:

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men.

Suspicious that Rove and Novak might have devised a cover story during that conversation to protect Rove, federal investigators briefed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on the matter in the early stages of the investigation in fall 2003, according to officials with direct knowledge of those briefings...

Sources said that Ashcroft received a special briefing on the highly sensitive issue of the September 29 conversation between Novak and Rove because of the concerns of federal investigators that a well-known journalist might have been involved in an effort to not only protect a source but also work in tandem with the president's chief political adviser to stymie the FBI.

Rove testified to the grand jury that during his telephone call with Novak, the columnist said words to the effect: "You are not going to get burned" and "I don't give up my sources," according to people familiar with his testimony. Rove had been one of the "two senior administration" officials who had been sources for the July 14, 2003, column in which Novak outed Plame as an "agency operative." Rove and Novak had talked about Plame on July 9, five days before Novak's column was published.

Rove also told the grand jury, according to sources, that in the September 29 conversation, Novak referred to a 1992 incident in which Rove had been fired from the Texas arm of President George H.W. Bush's re-election effort; Rove lost his job because the Bush campaign believed that he had been the source for a Novak column that criticized the campaign's internal workings.

Rove told the grand jury that during the September 29 call, Novak said he would make sure that nothing similar would happen to Rove in the CIA-Plame leak probe. Rove has testified that he recalled Novak saying something like, "I'm not going to let that happen to you again," according to those familiar with the testimony. Rove told the grand jury that the inference he took away from the conversation was that Novak would say that Rove was not a source of information for the column about Plame. Rove further testified that he believed he might not have been the source because when Novak mentioned to Rove that Plame worked for the CIA, Rove simply responded that he had heard the same information.

Asked during his grand jury appearance his reaction to the telephone call, Rove characterized it as a "curious conversation" and didn't know what to make of it, according to people familiar with his testimony...

To read the rest of that story, click here.

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