Rove Under Fire on Capitol Hill

After White House Deputy Secretary Karl Rove’s lawyer confirmed that Rove spoke to at least one reporter about CIA operative Valerie Plame, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has called for a Congressional investigation into Rove’s outing of a CIA official.

“The intentional disclosure of a covert CIA agents identity would be an act of treason,” said Waxman. “If Rove was part of a conspiracy and intentionally disclosed the name … then that jeopardizes national security.”

Last week, Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, said that Rove talked to Matt Cooper of Time magazine on July 11, 2003, about former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. According to published reports, Rove was trying to discredit Wilson, who debunked the president’s 2003 statement that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger, by saying that neither the CIA director nor the vice president sent Wilson to Niger to investigate, but that it might have been arranged by Wilson’s wife.

Exposing a covert CIA operative is a felony under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act that can be punishable by imprisonment. However, to implicate Rove, it would have to be shown that Rove knew Plame was a covert agent. Rove’s lawyer says that Rove never directly said Plame’s name while talking to Cooper but only identified her as Wilson’s wife.

“It’s a distinction without a difference,” said Waxman. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for Congress to ignore this any longer.”

After columnist Robert Novak revealed, citing unnamed administration officials in 2003, that Valerie Plame was a CIA official, Waxman twice called on the chair of the House Government Reform Committee, Tom Davis (R-Va.), to hold hearings on the outing. Both times Davis denied the requests, saying that Congress should not meddle in a case being investigated by the Justice Department.

“Now that we have on the public record that Rove was personably involved,” said Waxman. “We need to know if people in the executive branch are doing things that jeopardize our national security for the pettiest of motives. Regardless if a crime was committed or not, Congress needs to know how classified information is being handled and the kinds of purposes its being used for.”

Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), are calling on President Bush to immediately suspend Rove’s security clearances and to keep him out classified meetings. Other House Democrats have begun calling on the president to fire Rove.

A couple of weeks ago, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers (D-Mich.), wrote to President Bush, calling on him to either have Rove explain his involvement in the Plame matter or have him removed from office. The White House did not respond.

On Monday, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan also refused to respond to numerous questions on whether he still stood by his previous statements that Rove was not responsible for the outing and if the president still stood by his pledge that he would fire whoever leaked Valerie Plame’s name.

“I remember very well what was previously said,” said McClellan. “And at some point I will be glad to talk about it, but not until the investigation is complete.”

A reporter at the briefing fired back, “You stood at that podium and said Karl Rove was not involved, and now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved or was he not?”

McClellan responded, “David, there will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time.”