Columnist testifies Rove confirmed Plame was CIA
POSTED: 9:34 p.m. EST, February 12, 2007
Story Highlights• NEW: Robert Novak says Karl Rove confirmed Plame's CIA position
• White House advisor Rove not expected to testify, sources say
• No decision on whether Libby will testify until end of case, defense says
• Vice President Dick Cheney could be called to the stand
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The journalist who first revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame said in federal court Monday that two top government officials were his sources.
The defense called political columnist Robert Novak in the ongoing perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.
Libby, 56, is charged with two counts of perjury, two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of lying to investigators.
The investigators were searching for the source of a 2003 leak revealing Plame as a CIA operative.
To knowingly disclose classified information to unauthorized recipients is a crime; and Plame's position was classified.
However, Libby is not charged with the disclosure. Instead, prosecutors argue he lied to a grand jury and federal agents investigating the leak. (Watch how the Libby trial has revealed White House intrigue )
Prosecutors contend Libby disclosed Plame's employment to reporters as part of an effort to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson had gone public with allegations the Bush administration "twisted" intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
The government said Libby tried to protect himself and his job by claiming the information came from reporters, not from inside the Bush administration.
Testifying for the defense earlier, Washington Post assistant managing editor and author Bob Woodward said that on July 13, 2003, he interviewed then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for a book he was writing.
The book, "A Plan of Attack," which came out in the spring 2004, covered the 16 months President Bush and his war cabinet debated and finally decided to go to war in Iraq.
Woodward said he asked Armitage why former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent to Niger. "His wife is in the agency and is a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) analyst. How about that?" Armitage's voice was heard on a tape played in the courtroom. (Watch as tape of Woodward talking to Armitage brings a hush over the courtroom)
Woodward said he interviewed Armitage 10 days before an interview he'd sought with Cheney fell through and he instead talked to Libby.
Prosecutors said Libby disclosed Wilson's wife's employment to reporters as part of an effort to discredit her husband, who had gone public with allegations that the Bush administration "twisted" the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The government said Libby tried to protect himself and his job by claiming the information came from reporters, not from inside the Bush administration.
Reporter discusses Plame with Armitage
Novak told the court that in early July 2003, he was working on a story about Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger, which Wilson had written about in the New York Times.
Novak said he was interested in the "story of his report" and whether the president had ignored that report in opting for military intervention in Iraq.
"Two senior administration officials told me his wife (Valerie Plame) suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate," Novak said.
According to Novak, the CIA told him one of its divisions selected Wilson and then asked Plame to contact him.
"'I will not answer any question about my wife', Wilson told me," Novak said.
He named the two officials as Armitage and White House political adviser Karl Rove.
"I had been trying to get a meeting with Armitage in 2001. He just didn't want to see me," Novak said. "At the end of June 2003, his office contacted my office and said he would see me. I had not pressed the case in a couple years. We made an appointment for July 8, Tuesday afternoon, at his office at the State Department.
"The only people in the room were Secretary Armitage and me," Novak continued. "No aides, no tape recorders on either side. I did not take notes. It was by tacit agreement on background, (so I) assumed I could write what was said, (but) couldn't be able to quote him or identify him."
He added, "I had decided I was going to write a column about Ambassador Wilson's trip to Niger."
At one point, Novak said he asked Armitage, "Why in the world would they name Ambassador Wilson when he had been a staffer in (the) Carter administration, critical of Bush, no experience in nuclear policy ... had not been to Niger since he was a very junior foreign service official?"
According to Novak, Armitage said it was suggested by Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who worked in the counterproliferation division at the CIA.
Novak said he had no knowledge Plame was an intelligence operative, just that she was an employee of the CIA.
Novak: Rove confirmed Plame's job
Novak said Plame's status was confirmed later in a conversation with Rove.
Novak said he asked Rove several questions about Wilson's mission to Niger, and near the end of the conversation, "I commented that I heard she was a -- I had been told she was an employee of the counterproliferation division of the CIA. He said, "Oh, you know about that, too.' I took that as a clear affirmation."
Novak said he recalled talking to Libby when Libby returned his phone call July 9, 2003.
"What I'm confident of," Novak said, "is that I got no help and no confirmation of it from Mr. Libby. ... I kind of discard unhelpful conversations about it, so I am sure he gave me no information about it."
Asked if he inquired whether Plame worked at the CIA, Novak said, "I might have."
Libby told investigators he thought he learned of Plame's CIA position in a July 10, 2003, phone conversation with "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, and remembered only later that the information came from his boss, Cheney.
Russert testified that Libby's phone call was a complaint about news coverage of the leak story by another NBC reporter and that he did not discuss Plame during the call.
Rove's legal team has been told at this point not to expect him to be called to testify, sources with knowledge of the case told CNN, although it is still possible Libby's defense attorneys will change their minds and call him.
And one source close to Rove said the White House official has been told that his chances of being called as a defense witness are between "zero and nil" at this point.
When the Plame debacle began in the fall of 2003, the White House denied Rove and Libby had any role in outing the former CIA operative.