MARGARET WARNER: Late today, it was reported that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove has offered to -- and in fact will -- testify again before a federal grand jury looking into the 2003 unmasking of CIA Operative Valerie Plame. Rove reportedly has testified three times before.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has spent two years trying to determine whether someone in the Bush administration leaked Plame's identity for political reasons as a way of undermining her husband, a former ambassador and critic of President Bush's claims about Iraq's weapons. Joining us now to explain these latest developments is Tom Hamburger. He's been following the story for the Los Angeles Times.
And Tom, welcome, thanks for joining us.
TOM HAMBURGER: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: First of all, have you been able to confirm this story, that in fact Karl Rove is headed back to the grand jury?
TOM HAMBURGER: We have confirmed, Margaret, that Karl Rove has volunteered, had volunteered to cooperate further with prosecutors and that prosecutors have just last week accepted his offer. So yes, he will return to the grand jury, as you just said a moment ago, for a fourth time.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, one, is this unusual for someone to offer to go back to the grand jury? And if so, what led to this?
TOM HAMBURGER: Well, the -- Mr. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, has -- first, it is unusual at the close of an investigation for someone to be invited back to a grand jury for a final bit of testimony. And we're all puzzling over just what this means. His attorney says that this is just yet another sign of Karl Rove's willingness to cooperate. At the time that Matt Cooper, the Time Magazine reporter, testified before the grand jury in July, Mr. Luskin said he reaffirmed the prosecutor his interest, Karl Rove's interest in cooperating if there should ever be a need for further testimony, and last week he said he got the call that the prosecutor would like to take Karl Rove up on his offer.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, we know from what Matt Cooper later wrote in Time Magazine about his own testimony that he told the grand jury that Karl Rove was in fact his original source for the fact that this Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had supposedly had a role in spending him to Africa on this WMD investigative mission. Why would that be ominous for Karl Rove, or something he might want to come back and say something more about?
TOM HAMBURGER: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons why it was ominous not only for Karl Rove and for the White House. Remember, publicly, in 2003, we reporters and the nation were assured by the White House Spokesman Scott McLellan that it was ridiculous to suggest that Karl Rove or other very senior people in the White House were involved in this case, in this matter, leaking and discussing Plame with reporters. Matt Cooper then testifies under oath that indeed Karl Rove was his source for that information.
And so one question that it raises is: To what degree is Karl Rove involved, if at all, in the initial subject of the investigation? Is he involved illegally in leaking the name of a CIA agent? He has said, our sources tell us, that he did not leak the name. But it runs contrary to previous assertions that he was not involved in this at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Do we know, and we should say here that the special prosecutor has been totally tight-lipped about this, but do we know from other sources what Karl Rove had said to the grand jury previously about his conversations with Matt Cooper?
TOM HAMBURGER: Here's what we know, Margaret. We are told, and reporters have been told, and we've had this confirmed by a couple of sources, that in his first interview before the grand jury, Karl Rove did not mention his conversation with Matt Cooper. Subsequently, he did mention it. His attorney has said he has answered every question that has been asked of him by prosecutors but because there's been a slight difference in testimony, and because he didn't volunteer it the first time, there is some question about the degree to which he has cooperated.
Again, the White House, Karl Rove and Karl Rove's attorneys say their motto has been cooperate, cooperate, cooperate.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, explain another thing that was leaked today, and that was - and I'm going to try to read this -- that Fitzgerald told Rove's lawyers that he cannot guarantee now that Rove won't be indicted. First of all, why would the prosecutor say something like that?
TOM HAMBURGER: Well, it's a bit curious. There is, Margaret, a tradition, in fact it's a requirement in the Justice Department handbook, that prosecutors notify any witness before a grand jury, called before a grand jury, if they are a target of the investigation, if they are going to be charged.
Now, Karl Rove's attorney says and has said emphatically, his client had not received a target letter. However, he also says that the prosecutor affirmed to him that he can make no guarantee that Karl Rove will not be subsequently charged. In other words, there is still some legal jeopardy.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that new, I mean, has Karl Rove gotten such assurances before and this time there are new conditions?
TOM HAMBURGER: Margaret, we're all trying to read the tea leaves here. Here's what we know at the Los Angeles Times. Karl Rove's attorney has said repeatedly in the past that he's been assured that Karl Rove is not a target of the investigation.
Now, his attorney told me today that is still the case; however he is adding some new language; that is, the prosecutor cannot affirm to him additionally that Karl Rove may not eventually become a target or be charged in the case.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, and briefly if you can, what are the possible crimes that may have been committed here? In other words, that Fitzgerald is following, and do we know how quickly he will wind this up?
TOM HAMBURGER: Margaret, first of all, as you mentioned earlier, the initial charge of this investigation was to look at whether someone knowingly leaked the name of a covert CIA agent, a felony. That's a very difficult case to prove. There is speculation that now in addition, spinning off that initial charge, the prosecutor may be interested in perjury, possibly looking at obstruction of justice. Is there evidence that someone didn't cooperate with prosecutors?
And third, there's been some discussion of a charge that might be easier to sell at least initially, which is a conspiracy not to out a CIA agent knowingly, which is a hard case to prove, but a conspiracy rather using classified information in violation of laws protecting classified secrets.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. And he's supposed to -- I think the grand jury is supposed to wrap up this month.
TOM HAMBURGER: That's correct.
MARGARET WARNER: Tom Hamburger of the LA Times, thank you so much.
TOM HAMBURGER: Thank you.