- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2005

Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper yesterday named a second Bush administration official as a source for stories that identified Valerie Plame as an agent of the CIA, although he conceded that neither source mentioned her by name or said she had been a “cover agent.”

In a first-person article in this week’s editions of the magazine, Mr. Cooper writes that he told a federal grand jury investigating the leak that he asked Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, whether the vice president played any role in arranging Joseph C. Wilson IV’s trip to Niger, as Mr. Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and then to Sao Tome and Principe, had suggested in an op-ed essay in the New York Times.

“On background, I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson’s wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that too,’ or words to that effect,” Mr. Cooper writes. The magazine is available on newsstands today.

Mr. Cooper confirmed that neither Mr. Libby nor senior Bush adviser Karl Rove identified Mrs. Plame or disclosed her work status at the CIA. (“Background” describes an interview in which the subject cannot be quoted, by name, position, or even indirectly; any information must be used only as “background information.”)

“Like Rove, Libby never used Valerie Plame’s name or indicated that her status was covert, and he never told me that he had heard about Plame from other reporters, as some press accounts have indicated,” Mr. Cooper writes.

In an appearance yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Cooper was asked by host Tim Russert whether he interpreted Mr. Libby’s response “as a confirmation.”

“I did, yes,” the Time reporter said.

Mr. Cooper said Mr. Rove was warning him that Mr. Wilson’s accusations against the Bush administration were entitled to little credibility. Such cautions, or “wave-offs,” are common.

In an e-mail sent by Mr. Rove, and subsequently turned over to the grand jury by the White House, he notified Stephen J. Hadley, who was then the deputy national security adviser to the president, that “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming.

“When he finished his brief heads-up, he immediately launched into Niger. ‘Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt?’ I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.”

Those familiar with Mr. Rove’s grand jury testimony told the Associated Press that Mr. Rove testified that the e-mail reflected his intentions when he responded to Mr. Cooper’s telephone call in a conversation lasting a few minutes on a Friday in July last year, shortly before he left for a vacation. He did not intend to divulge Mrs. Plame’s identity, he said, but rather wanted to caution Mr. Cooper against crediting the Wilson accusations.

Mr. Cooper writes in Time magazine: “Rove told me material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”

“As for Wilson’s wife, I told the grand jury I was certain that Rove never used her name and that, indeed, I did not learn her name until the following week, when I either saw it in Robert Novak’s column or Googled her, I can’t recall which.

“Rove did, however, clearly indicate that she worked at the ‘agency’ — by that, I told the grand jury, I inferred that he obviously meant the CIA and not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency. Rove added that she worked on ‘WMD’ [weapons of mass destruction] issues and that she was responsible for sending Wilson. This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson’s wife.”

Mr. Wilson, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” insisted that Mr. Cooper’s notes and testimony are “documented evidence” that Mr. Rove gave his wife’s name to a reporter in retaliation for Mr. Wilson’s op-ed essay, which accused the Bush administration of manufacturing the weapons of mass destruction case against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, told NBC that Mr. Cooper’s explanation vindicates Mr. Rove and that he rightly questioned Mr. Wilson’s motives in criticizing the administration while not eliminating any agent’s cover.

“Joe Wilson misled the public about who sent him to Niger. Second, he misled the public about what he found. He misled the public about who revealed his materials on what he saw when he was over there. He misled the public about the documents that he didn’t review, which he said he did review. He explained all of these mistakes by saying, ‘I sometimes take a little literary flair.’ He then appeared in a big photo spread in Vanity Fair magazine.”

Angered that Mrs. Plame’s name and position were printed by Mr. Cooper a few days after they appeared in a syndicated newspaper column by Robert Novak, the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the source of the revelation.

Led by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the two-year-old investigation has lead to the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to disclose her source.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, suggested to CBS’ “Face the Nation” the CIA was “overzealous” in requesting the investigation, saying many people in Washington understood that Mrs. Plame worked at the CIA, driving openly to its headquarters in Langley every day.

“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the CIA might have been overzealous in sort of maintaining the kind of top-secret definition on things longer than they needed to,” Mr. Blunt said.

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