October 26, 2005

Leak Counsel Is Said to Press on Rove's Role

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 - With the clock running out on his investigation, the special counsel in the leak case continued to seek information on Tuesday about Karl Rove's discussions with reporters in the days before a C.I.A. officer's identity was made public, lawyers and others involved in the investigation said.

Three days before the grand jury in the case expires and with the White House in a state of high anxiety, the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, appeared still to be trying to determine whether Mr. Rove had been fully forthcoming about his contacts with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist, in July 2003, they said.

Mr. Fitzgerald, who is the United States attorney in Chicago, spent the day in Washington and summoned his team, including his chief F.B.I. investigator, Jack Eckenrode, for what appeared to be a final round of discussions about how to proceed.

Lawyers involved in the case have said Mr. Rove, President Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, face the possibility of indictment on perjury or other charges related to covering up their actions.

The flurry of last minute activity had White House officials anticipating an announcement as soon as Wednesday about whether the prosecutor would seek indictments. Indictments of Mr. Libby or Mr. Rove or both would leave Mr. Bush a political crisis with the potential to reshape the remainder of his second term. It is not clear whether anyone else might be charged in the case, which centers on what role administration officials played in the disclosure of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity, first in Mr. Novak's column on July 14, 2003.

Mr. Fitzgerald's spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined to comment.

The investigation was set off by questions about whether administration officials had leaked the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, in response to criticism by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a former diplomat, said in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, that the White House had "twisted" the intelligence it used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Wilson traveled to Africa on a mission sponsored by the C.I.A. in 2002 to look into reports that Iraq had acquired nuclear material in Niger.

In a sign that the prosecutor is continuing to build a case that Ms. Wilson's covert status was ended when she was named in Mr. Novak's column, F.B.I. agents questioned neighbors of the Wilsons in northwest Washington in the last few days, seeking to determine whether it was commonly known that she was a C.I.A. officer, a person involved in the case said. Ms. Wilson was identified in Mr. Novak's column by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.

White House officials did not respond to questions about a report on Tuesday in The New York Times that Mr. Libby had first learned of the C.I.A. officer from Mr. Cheney several weeks before Mr. Novak's column. On a day when the mood at the White House was described by one friend of the president as grim, Mr. Bush used his public appearances on Tuesday to show himself as focused on the nation's business, most notably Iraq, and undeterred by what he has characterized as "background noise."

Twenty-two months after beginning his investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald has assembled testimony from dozens of witnesses, secured the cooperation of journalists in helping to piece together what happened and delved deep into the workings of an administration that has always sought to keep its internal deliberations and its political tactics out of public view.

While not commenting on the report about Mr. Libby's conversation with Mr. Cheney, the White House took issue with suggestions that Mr. Cheney had not been truthful several months later in a television interview when he said he did not know Mr. Wilson and did not know who had sent him on his mission.

Asked whether Mr. Cheney always told the truth to the American people, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, answered, "Yes."

At issue were remarks by Mr. Cheney in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sept. 14, 2003. In response to a question about Mr. Wilson, Mr. Cheney said: "I don't know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when I came back."

Mr. Cheney later added, "I don't know Joe Wilson," and said he had "no idea who hired him."

The Times report said Mr. Libby had taken notes of a conversation he had with Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, after Mr. Cheney had spoken to George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, about newspaper articles quoting an anonymous former diplomat taking issue with the administration's use of intelligence about Iraq's effort to acquire nuclear material in Niger.

The notes do not show that Mr. Cheney had learned the name of Mr. Wilson's wife or her covert status, lawyers involved in the case said. But they do show that Mr. Cheney knew and told Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson's wife was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency and may have helped arrange her husband's trip, they said.

Republicans sympathetic to Mr. Cheney said there was no inconsistency between what the vice president is reported to have told Mr. Libby and what Mr. Cheney said on "Meet the Press." They said there was nothing in the reported conversation to suggest that the vice president knew Mr. Wilson or knew who had sent him to Africa.

But Democrats in Congress and liberal advocacy groups sought to turn up the pressure on the White House. The Center for American Progress, a liberal group, sought to focus attention on what Mr. Bush knew, saying in an e-mail message to supporters and journalists that the "question that must now be answered is whether Vice President Cheney had any discussions about Valerie Plame with President Bush prior to her outing."

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, called on Mr. Bush to assure that any administration officials who were indicted would resign. Mr. Schumer also called on Mr. Bush not to engage in any criticism of Mr. Fitzgerald should he bring indictments.

Congressional Republicans were bracing for indictments and the potential disruption it could mean for their legislative agenda while Democrats prepared to take advantage of any charges to drive home their theme that Republican rule had fostered an atmosphere of corruption.

David Johnston contributed reporting from Washington for this article.