Key Rove Aide May Be Asked to Testify
By Richard Sale, long-time intelligence correspondent
A key aide to presidential advisor Karl Rove is likely to be summoned to appear before the federal grand jury investigating the outing of Central Intelligence Agency operative, Valerie Plame, according to federal law enforcement officials.
Susan Ralston, the chief of staff for Rove, who manages his appointments and scheduling, remains a “person of interest” to federal probers seeking to clarify the circumstances surrounding the leak of Plame’s identity to the media.
Ralston could appear as early next week, barring “any late minute maneuvering,” a federal law enforcement official said.
The probe is trying to determine if there was a conspiracy to out Plame in retaliation for criticism by her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, who alleged that the administration had exaggerated intelligence and hyped its rationale for going to war with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
On October 28, a federal grand jury indicted Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby for five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby, who faces 30 years of prison time if proven guilty, has proclaimed his innocence and his intent to clear his name, according to UPI news accounts.
According to U.S. government officials, investigators from the office of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald are interested in clarifying a discrepancy in Rove’s testimony before the grand jury involving Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
According to published accounts, Cooper appeared on July 21 before the grand jury to answer questions that centered on the week of July 6, 2003, the period when an opinion piece by Wilson openly challenged administration assertions about Iraq’s attempts to purchase 500 metric tons of yellow cake uranium from the government of Niger.
The allegation was found later to have been made in forged documents, according to UPI news reports.
According to Cooper’s account, he called Rove on July 11, reaching Rove through the White House switchboard and then being transferred to his office. Cooper later filed an e-mail about the conversation that was later leaked to the media.
When Rove testified before the grand jury, he made no mention of his conversation with Cooper, and when Special Counsel Fitzgerald asked him about it later, Rove testified he had simply forgotten about the call and was only reminded of it when a White House colleague showed him an e-mail about it.
According to federal sources, Fitzgerald was openly skeptical of this. One U.S. government official said: “The White House dug around and came up with this plan where Ralston would testify that while Rove had a brilliant mind able to deftly deal with large and abstract concepts, when it came to details, he was the absent-minded professor.”
The famous 18th century economist Adam Smith, for example, was famous for an episode in which he went dressed in his nightshirt into his backyard, and busy with his thoughts, was later discovered to have wandered 10 miles down a country road before found by his friends. “Rove was supposed to resemble that,yes,” the source close to the case said.
According to federal sources, Ralston stuck to a similar story when she testified before the grand jury last August. The argument made was that the switchboard only logs calls that Rove receives directly, not ones routed through the switchboard, U.S. government sources said.
“What the investigators want to know is why that record of Cooper’s phone call didn’t appear in White House logs,” a federal law enforcement official said, especially since Fitzgerald has evidence that all switchboard calls were logged in, not just some, contradicting White House assertions.
Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, has consistently maintained that Rove was simply forgetful.
But one source close to the case said, “There is still some question in the Special Counsel’s office as to whether Rove made an attempt to mislead the probe.”
On Wednesday, Ralston was away from the White House on travel, but a further call for comment was not returned.
Asked if Ralston was scheduled to appear, Fitzgerald’s spokeman, Randall Sanborn, said: “I have no comment on that.”