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Another time reported testomy may help rove { December 12 2005 }

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Time Reporter May Have Lent Rove a Hand
The journalist says she gave a tip to the lawyer for Bush's aide, which may have triggered a chain of events in the Plame investigation.
By Richard B. Schmitt
Times Staff Writer

December 12, 2005

WASHINGTON — A Time magazine correspondent acknowledged Sunday that she may have unwittingly aided the defense of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation when she told the White House aide's lawyer about a conversation one of her colleagues had held with Rove concerning CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The tip, offered over drinks at a Washington restaurant sometime during the first half of 2004, apparently led Rove to correct testimony he had given to a federal grand jury in the case, Time reporter Viveca Novak said in a first-person account that was posted Sunday on the magazine's website.

Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is trying to determine whether Rove, the president's top political advisor, lied to investigators about a conversation he had two years ago about Plame with Matthew Cooper, then Time's White House correspondent.

Fitzgerald already has obtained an indictment of former vice presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on perjury and other charges. People close to Rove contend that he simply forgot about the conversation with Cooper until Novak's remark jogged his memory.

The Time report is the latest entanglement for journalists in the two-year investigation into whether Bush administration officials broke any laws by disclosing Plame's identity to reporters in the summer of 2003.

Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was an outspoken critic of the way the administration used intelligence before invading Iraq. Some of Plame's jobs at the CIA had required her to work undercover, and it can — under certain circumstances — be a federal crime to disclose the identity of a covert operative.

In her online account, Novak, a Time legal affairs reporter since 1996, said she had been interviewed twice by Fitzgerald, most recently for 90 minutes on Thursday.

She revealed that her editors were not told about her discussions with Rove's lawyer until last month, a week after her first interview with Fitzgerald — a decision that she said she now regretted.

The magazine said that "by mutual agreement," she had taken a paid leave of absence, effective immediately.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who is not related to the Time reporter, was the first journalist to publicly disclose Plame's identity. He did so in his column of July 14, 2003, eight days after an op-ed article by Wilson, criticizing the administration, appeared in the New York Times. Several days after Robert Novak's column was published, Plame was also identified in an article Cooper wrote for the Time website.

Rove later acknowledged being a source for both reports but, through his lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, has denied breaking any laws

In her Sunday article, Viveca Novak wrote that she had held a conversation with Luskin between January and May 2004 in which the question of whether Rove was a source for Cooper came up. According to Novak, Luskin asserted that Rove was not a source for Cooper.

"I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, 'Are you sure about that? That's not what I heard around Time,' " Novak wrote, adding that she was "taken aback" when Luskin seemed to take her comments seriously.

"I had been pushing back against what I thought was his attempt to lead me astray…. I hadn't intended to tip Luskin off to anything," she wrote, adding that "if I could have a do-over, I would have kept my mouth shut."

She said she later learned that her remark led Luskin to conduct an intensive search for evidence that Rove and Cooper had talked. That turned up an e-mail in which Rove acknowledged the conversation. Luskin subsequently turned the e-mail over to Fitzgerald, and Rove told the grand jury in October 2004 that he had indeed spoken with Cooper.

Then, in late October of this year, just before the grand jury's expiration, Luskin is believed to have offered his conversation with Novak as evidence that Rove had innocently forgotten that he had spoken with Cooper. Around the same time, he informed Novak that Fitzgerald might call her.

Novak said that, along with her lawyer, she met with the prosecutor for two hours Nov. 10. She said she did not tell her editors about the meeting because she hoped it would turn out to be an "insignificant twist" in the investigation. She said that when Fitzgerald requested a second meeting, in which she was to testify under oath, she decided to inform them.

Novak said she was unable to discern the effect her testimony might have on the case. "Will it make the difference between whether Rove gets indicted or not? I have no idea," she said.

Luskin declined to comment.

Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time, said in an interview Sunday that Novak's story "speaks for itself."

"She admits she made mistakes, and she regrets them, and I don't disagree with her assessment," Kelly said.

Novak was one of the reporters covering the Plame affair for the magazine. "Obviously, if I had known sooner [about her conversations with Luskin], she would not be writing about the case," Kelly said.

"I was upset that Viveca had not informed us a lot earlier, and I was astonished that the case had taken this turn, and that something that Viveca did would end up being used by Mr. Luskin in that way," he added.

Some media experts said they were surprised at Novak's decision to keep her editors in the dark. "This is the kind of thing that makes media lawyers want to smack their foreheads," said Jane Kirtley, who teaches media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota.

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