MSNBC: Rove sources confirm Novak conversation; Fitzgerald turns toward Cheney

Published: Thursday May 25, 2006

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In Hardball's daily dish on the CIA leak trial Thursday, MSNBC's David Shuster said the latest filings raise new questions about Vice President Cheney's potential role in the outing of a CIA agent, and that sources close to Karl Rove confirm that Rove did have a followup conversation about his calling conservative columnist Robert Novak. A report in the National Journal today suggests Novak considered 'covering' for Rove in the case.

Transcript follows.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: On Monday, Hardball correspondent David Shuster first reported the likelihood Vice President Cheney himself would be called as a witness stand by prosecutors in the CIA leak case against Scooter Libby. Last night, prosecutors filed a motion formally notifying Libby and the Court that Cheney may, in fact, be a prosecution witness. The new pre-trial documents underscore the central role of Vice President Cheney in his office's focus on an administration critic whose wife worked at the CIA and saw her cover status compromised. Here now is David Shuster.


DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The latest prosecution filings reveal Vice President Cheney had a greater role than previously known in the actions that led to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Wilson.

It was Wilson's husband, ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote this op-ed criticizing the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald states, as the defendant Scooter Libby admitted in his grand jury testimony, he communicated extensively with the Vice President regarding the Wilson op-ed during the relevant time period and received direction from the Vice President regarding his response.

Fitzgerald also said this. The state of mind of the Vice President as communicated to defendant is directly relevant to the issue of whether the defendant knowing made false statements to federal agents and the grand jury."

JONATHAN TURLEY, GW law center: "Everything ends up at Dick Cheney's desk. His right hand man is indicted, he's intimately involved in the Niger allegation with the weapons of mass destruction. He's the one who seems to have instructed Libby. The biggest question is not whether he will be called as a witness, but why he wasn't a co-conspirator."

SHUSTER: According to Libby's grand jury testimony about Cheney, the Vice President saw Joe Wilson's op-ed as an attack on his credibility. Prosecutor question to Libby: Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis? Libby: Yes sir. Question: And it was discussed on multiple occasions each day, in fact? Libby: Yes sir. Question: And during that time did the Vice President indicate he was upset that this article was out there which falsely in his view attacked his own credibility? Libby: Yes sir. Question: And do you recall what it is that the Vice President said? Libby: I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he had or hadn't done, what the facts were or were not. He was very keen about that and said it repeatedly.

One alleged fact the Vice President seemed to zero in on was the idea that nepotism contributed to Joe Wilson's findings. On a copy of the Wilson op-ed, Cheney wrote, quote, did his wife send him on a junket? Prosecutors are not asserting that Cheney instructed Libby to leak to reporters and then lie about it to the grand jury.

But Patrick Fitzgerald argues that Cheney's interactions with Libby were a key part of what motivated Libby to obstruct the investigation.

Fitzgerald indicated that he may call Cheney as a prosecution witness. Cheney's testimony would be used to prove that Libby learned Valerie Wilson's identity from the Vice President and other government officials, not from reporters.

SOL WISENBERG, former deputy independent counsel: "If you are the prosecutor, you want to be looking at everything, every little thing that could get you to convince a jury, this is not the kind of thing that a person would forget."

SHUSTER: Last week, Scooter Libby's defense team downplayed the significance of Vice President Cheney's notes on the Wilson column by declaring Libby never saw the notes until the FBI showed him a copy.

But in the actual grand jury testimony, released by Fitzgerald, Libby said of the column, quote, "it's possible if it was sitting on his desk that, you know, my eye went across it."

Documents released earlier in the case indicate Vice President Cheney and Libby talked about the Wilsons on the very day Libby allegedly leaked her identity to two reporters. Is Patrick Fitzgerald trying to build a case against Vice President Cheney?

JONATHAN TURLEY, GW law center: "Sometimes, prosecutors will not indict someone in the hopes that a former colleague will flip, like Scooter. But I gotta tell you, they can't wait until the cows come home, Scooter Libby is not going to flip on Dick Cheney."

SHUSTER: Meanwhile, in the investigation of Karl Rove, sources close to the presidential advisor are now confirming a story first reported in the national journal that Rove, who was a source for columnist Bob Novak, later had a separate conversation with Novak after the investigation began.

Former federal prosecutors are convinced Fitzgerald has explored whether Rove and Novak coordinated their testimony.

But today, a spokesman for Karl Rove said quote, "Karl Rove has never urged anyone, directly or indirectly, to withhold information from the special Counsel or to testify falsely. Circulating such speculation now is nothing short of irresponsible."

SHUSTER: (on-camera) But the contention is not that Karl Rove urged Bob Novak to withhold information, rather it's that Rove was assured early in the case that Novak was not going to burn him. Today, Robert Novak was unavailable for comment. As for the overall investigation, including the Libby case, there was also no comment today from the official who has now become a central figure, Vice President Cheney.

I'm David Shuster, for hardball, in Washington.