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Bush declines to comment on Rove

Cites ongoing investigation of CIA leak


Karl Rove
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Seated just a few feet from the man who has emerged as a central figure in the CIA leak investigation, U.S. President George W. Bush deflected questions Wednesday about his top political adviser, Karl Rove, saying it is too soon to pass judgment.

"I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

"I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports. We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed."

Though Rove was in the room, Bush would not say whether he had spoken with him since word broke that Rove had told a reporter that the wife of an administration critic was a CIA agent.

That critic -- former Ambassador Joe Wilson -- called it an act of retribution after he publicly criticized some of the intelligence the United States presented about Iraq in the run-up to the war.

Rove orchestrated Bush's two presidential campaigns -- Bush called him "the architect" of his 2004 re-election -- and is currently White House deputy chief of staff.

He moved to the center of the controversy over who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative after Time magazine identified him as a source for one of its reporters.

Documents the magazine turned over to investigators indicated that Rove, in a conversation with Matthew Cooper, said Wilson's wife was a CIA agent.

It is illegal to knowingly expose a covert CIA operative. But Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, says his client is innocent of any wrongdoing in the matter.

Luskin said Rove has testified before a grand jury "fully and completely" on several occasions and allowed Cooper to testify Wednesday by waiving the reporter's vow of confidentiality.

"Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation," Luskin said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

"Rove has done nothing wrong. We're confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence."

On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said it may be unclear whether Rove broke the law, but he clearly was involved -- despite assertions by McClellan in 2003 that Rove was not. In one briefing, McClellan called it a "ridiculous suggestion," adding, "there is simply no truth to that suggestion."

In news briefings Tuesday and Wednesday, McClellan refused to answer repeated questions on the matter. "Every person who works here at the White House, including Karl Rove, has the confidence of the president," he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters, "The American people deserve answers." He said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had insisted that an initial investigation was "thorough" and concluded that Rove had no involvement.

"That is clearly not true," Schumer said, though he added it is unclear whether Rove broke the law.

Schumer released a letter from leading Democratic lawmakers calling on Card to release the details of the previous investigation and begin a new one.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "It looks like there has been some effort to obstruct the investigation of someone so high ranking in the White House," and said Republican lawmakers "should be having hearings on this subject."

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost to Bush in last year's presidential election, said Tuesday he believes Rove should be fired.

Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman, meanwhile, urged House Republicans to defend Rove.

"Your good friend is being smeared by Democrats," a GOP leadership aide quoted Mehlman as telling a closed meeting of the House GOP Conference in which Mehlman distributed talking points.

At a press briefing following the conference, Majority Whip Roy Blunt called the Rove affair a "small matter."

"Our friends on the other side just aren't coming forward with any policy positions that would change the country, so they want to pick up whatever the target of the week is and make the most out of that," Blunt said.

Deborah Pryce, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, urged patience, saying, "It's premature for anyone to judge Karl Rove on what little bit we know." But she then defended Rove as the "whistle-blower in this situation." She said Rove's conversation with Cooper was aimed at exposing Wilson's "lies."

Wilson had said publicly that the CIA asked him to investigate a report that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger, and that he found that was unlikely to have occurred. According to Cooper's notes, Rove said it was Wilson's wife who recommended him for the trip, and Wilson could not be trusted.

Cooper spent two and a half hours before the grand jury on Wednesday, telling reporters he described what he knows "honestly and openly."

He said he has "no idea" whether a crime was committed.

Cooper's testimony followed a lengthy legal drama that pitted advocates for journalistic freedom against federal authorities overseeing the leak. The Supreme Court ultimately refused to overturn a lower court decision requiring Cooper and fellow journalist Judith Miller of the New York Times to testify about conversations they had with confidential sources on background.

After that decision, Time magazine -- over Cooper's objections -- turned over Cooper's notes, saying journalists are not "above the law."

Cooper reiterated his dismay with that decision Wednesday, saying he had agreed to testify only after receiving an explicit waiver from Rove. "I believe that once a journalist makes a commitment to protect the confidentiality of a source, only the source can end that commitment -- not a court, not a corporation," he said.

He declined to give details of his testimony, saying he would write about it in Time magazine.

Time and CNN are owned by Time Warner.

Cooper said he hoped his testimony would help speed the investigation, so that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could complete it -- and so that Miller, who has kept her source a secret, can be freed. "It is crazy to have Judith Miller in jail," he said.

Miller, who refused subpoenas to testify in the matter, was in her eighth day of incarceration Wednesday -- in the same prison that houses terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui. Her attorney said she looks paler and thinner than when she went in.

She is allowed visitors for as long as an hour on most days, but can have no physical contact. She communicates with them from behind a glass panel, using telephones.

Neither Miller nor Cooper published the information they were given about Wilson's wife. It was conservative columnist Robert Novak -- also a CNN commentator -- who published that in a column July 14, 2003, citing two "senior administration officials."

Novak has refused to say publicly who his sources were, and it remains unclear what information he may have given the investigation.

Speaking to reporters en route to Tanzania, first lady Laura Bush said she would not speculate on what role Rove may have played in the matter.

"Karl Rove is a very good friend of mine; I've known him for years," she said. "And I'm not going to speculate on any other part of the case, except to say that he's a good friend."

--CNN Correspondent Kelly Wallace and Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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