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Rove – For the Sunday Independent Of London

And in Rove’s case, it is likely to get uglier.

“Bush’s Brain” has been operating as if he were out of danger in the federal investigation of the leaking of an undercover CIA agent’s name.  He is not.  In fact, stoic prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have evidence to make a case of perjury and obstruction of justice against Rove.  Fitzgerald’s methodical, circumspect approach has prompted analysts to argue he has disposed of the Rove case after almost three years by deciding not to indict.  However, he has been in the midst of convicting an Illinois governor of corruption and is also investigating one of the country’s largest media moguls.  Rove has not been cleared; other cases were simply further along in the judicial process and demanded Fitzgerald’s immediate attention.

Potential charges against Rove would be connected to an e-mail he sent to former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.  After an order from then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to turn over all relevant communications, and subpoenas from the federal grand jury requiring similar compliance, Rove still did not surrender this particular e-mail.  The apparent reason is that it shows the president’s most trusted advisor to be considerably less than truthful with investigators.  Including questioning by the FBI and his appearances before grand jurors, Rove is believed to have given sworn testimony ten times.  In all but one of those instances, Rove said under oath that he did not speak with reporters about CIA agent Valerie Plame until he read her name in a column written by his old friend, conservative Robert Novak.  Unfortunately for Rove, the date on his e-mail to Hadley offers facts that contradict his words and lay the foundation for likely criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, earlier this week stopped assuring reporters that the legendary political magician was not going to be indicted.  And recent filings by the prosecution confirmed that Rove is a “subject” of the federal probe.  Under the American grand jury system, an individual is named a subject until adequate evidence is acquired to turn them into a “target.”  If that transition occurs, Rove will receive a “target” letter from investigators.  Luskin’s comments seemed to indicate that has not yet happened to his client.  However, in the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby indictment, Rove was named as a complicit “Official A” and in every case Fitzgerald has ever prosecuted the distinction of “Official A” has led to separate charges against that person. 

Fitzgerald’s latest court paperwork also claims Rove will not be called as a prosecution witness in the Libby case, a legal move that generally happens when a “subject” individual is headed for indictment.  Further, the special prosecutor’s documents intimate his inquiry spans much more than just the alleged misbehavior of current defendant Libby.

“Indeed,” Fitzgerald wrote, “there exist documents, some of which have been provided to defendant [Libby,] and there were conversations in which defendant participated, that reveal a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House, to repudiate Mr. Wilson before and after July 14, 2003.” 

After having reported on Rove for more than a quarter century, I am confident that no such activity could have transpired in the White House without his involvement and, more probably, his guidance.

The date of the incriminating e-mail, meanwhile, from Rove to Hadley gives lie to the political strategist’s claims that he did not talk about Valerie Plame until her name was already part of the national political discourse.  In the July 11th 2003 communication, Rove tells Hadley he “didn’t take the bait” when Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper asked him if the Niger uranium controversy hurt the president.  Rove was writing about a conversation he had with Cooper three days before Robert Novak published his article outing agent Plame on July 14th.  Cooper subsequently testified that he first learned her identity from Rove. 

Why did Rove not tell investigators about the e-mail and the phone conversation with Cooper the first nine times he was placed under oath?  His lawyer has said Rove’s memory was jogged by cocktail chatter.  Luskin and another reporter for Time were talking about the case when she revealed that Rove might have what his lawyer had characterized as a “Matt Cooper problem.”  Luskin said he mentioned the conversation to Rove and they conducted “an exhaustive search” for evidence, which turned up the e-mail.  No explanation was proffered as to why the note was not discovered under subpoena or why initial efforts were not equally “exhaustive.”  Rove said he simply forgot he had spoken to Cooper. 

Nonsense. 

A man who can remember precinct results from century old presidential elections is not likely to forget he talked with one of Washington’s most prominent journalists about a story that was a threat to the presidency.  The more likely explanation is that Rove was playing a game he mastered early in his career, which is hiding behind the First Amendment to the Constitution and a reporter’s obligation to protect sources. Obviously, Rove believed Cooper would never tell investigators where he heard about Plame but when he cooperated with the subpoena, Rove’s cover was blown.  Rove had no choice but to produce the e-mail and an explanation as to why he had not mentioned it during previous testimony.  “I forgot” doesn’t have much power to protect him from indictment.

As Rove’s role was being redefined by the new White House chief of staff this week, Fitzgerald was reportedly presenting evidence against the political genius to the grand jury.  Rove has been ordered to concentrate his considerable political skills on the mid-term elections in November because the president’s approval ratings are so poor that Republican candidates are running away from Mr. Bush and his policies.  

Rove’s goal, nonetheless, has always been to establish a Republican hegemony, and his ability to win under the most challenging of circumstances has never faltered.  If, however, Fitzgerald’s case against Rove is as open and shut as it appears from the outside, the man chosen to mastermind a comeback for the president and his party may find himself in legal jeopardy before the autumnal rhetoric of the election.  And the president’s final two years might as well be spent chopping cedar trees on his Texas ranch    

Patrick Fitzgerald, too, carries an awful burden, even though he considers himself little more than a good citizen just doing his job.  Untold millions of Americans are relying on this son of Irish immigrants to renew their faith that we remain a nation of laws.  Too many of us have a well-earned cynicism; we see our country wandering desperately through an historical fog.  We fear America has entered a permanent state of decline. 

A little justice, though, might begin a great renewal.