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Key questions at the center of Rove controversy
San Francisco Chronicle


July 13, 2005

The controversy over whether presidential adviser Karl Rove revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of a public-relations battle over the Iraq war leaves many questions that can be only partially answered. Among them:

Q: What was the likely motive for the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA agent to columnist Robert Novak, which he published on July 14, 2003?

A: Plame is the wife of former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium for nuclear weapons. Wilson subsequently reported to the CIA that the intelligence was false, a conclusion that he later made public in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed piece - which was widely viewed as an embarrassment to the Bush administration. Wilson has said administration officials outed his wife to indirectly punish him by ruining her career. Some analysts also have noted that White House and Pentagon officials were locked in a bitter internal dispute with the CIA over a wide range of intelligence matters.

Q: Was Plame responsible for sending her husband on the Niger mission in an example of nepotism? If so, does that discredit Wilson's findings, as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said Tuesday?

A: Wilson has said his wife acted only as a "go-between" with "agency officials" who acted in response to "questions" from "Vice President Dick Cheney's office." An inquiry by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that Cheney himself had not authorized the trip; the inquiry reported that some CIA officials said Plame ordered the trip while other agency officials disputed the account. Wilson's Niger conclusions were subsequently confirmed as correct by a CIA task force on postwar intelligence.

Q: What federal law may have been broken?

A: The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 prohibits the disclosure of names and identities of intelligence agents working undercover. The law carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison for the disclosure of the names and identities of agents by those who have authorized access to classified information that identifies covert agents, and up to five years in prison for disclosure by those who learn agents' identities through authorized access to general classified information. The only person publicly known to have been prosecuted under this law is Sharon Scranage, a CIA officer in Ghana who pleaded guilty in 1985 to revealing other agents' names to her Ghanian boyfriend. She was sentenced to five years in prison, and she served eight months behind bars.

Q: What is known about Karl Rove's possible involvement in the leak?

A: According to a July 11, 2003, e-mail from Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper to a colleague about his conversation with Rove earlier that day, "it was, KR said, wilson's (sic) wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd (weapons of mass destruction) issues who authorized the trip."

Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, said this proved his client had not broken the law because he disclosed only Plame's general identity, not her specific name. Luskin declined to say how Rove found out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

Q: Is Rove being investigated by the special prosecutor?

A: Luskin says special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has told Rove he is not a "target" of the investigation. But in an interview with National Review Online on Tuesday, Luskin said Fitzgerald also made clear that anyone whose conduct fell within the scope of the investigation, including Rove, was considered a "subject" of the probe. " Target' is something we all understand, a very alarming term," Luskin said. However, Fitzgerald "has indicated to us that he takes a very broad view of what a subject is."

Q: Have any other administration officials been named or implicated in connection with the leak?

A: Fitzgerald has not disclosed details of his probe, but public speculation has focused on Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, and John Bolton, formerly the State Department's under secretary for arms control and now Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.

Q: Why hasn't Novak, the columnist who first publicized Plame's identity, faced the same demands for information from the special prosecutor as Matthew Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller?

A: Novak has refused to comment on the issue except to say that he was the recipient of a leak. Most observers believe that Novak testified to the federal grand jury and that Fitzgerald was satisfied with his responses.

Q: Why is Miller currently in jail? Unlike Novak and Cooper, she has published nothing about Plame.

A: Miller has been jailed for refusing to testify to the grand jury. Cooper has agreed to testify, and Time has provided records to the grand jury. However, it is still unclear why Fitzgerald subpoenaed Miller in the first place. Miller has been the subject of a related controversy during the past year because her prewar reporting gave prominent coverage to allegations - later proved to be unfounded - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.



Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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