[Murray Waas is better - see UPDATE]
At first glance (and second, and third), this AP story looks like an attempt to protect the President and cut him loose from Karl Rove:
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told President Bush and others that he never engaged in an effort to disclose a CIA operative's identity to discredit her husband's criticism of the administration's Iraq policy, according to people with knowledge of Rove's account in the investigation.
They said Rove's denial to Bush occurred during a brief conversation in July 2003, shortly after media reports revealed that the administration critic, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked as a covert CIA operative.
The discussion with Bush, along with others, was general and did not get into specifics concerning Rove's contacts with two reporters, Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who wrote stories identifying Plame, the people familiar with Rove's account said.
They said Bush asked Rove to assure him he was not involved in an effort to divulge Plame's identity and punish Wilson, and the longtime confidant assured him so. He answered similarly when White House press secretary Scott McClellan asked a similar question.
Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, declined Friday to comment on the specifics of the discussions with Bush but confirmed his client maintains _ then and now _ he did not engage in an effort to disclose Plame's identity.
Rove has told a grand jury he first learned of Plame's work for the CIA from news reporters and then discussed it with Novak and Cooper.
"Did Karl purposely set out to disclose Valerie Plame's identity in order to punish Joe Wilson for his criticism? The answer is, 'No,'" Luskin said. "That was his answer in July 2003 and in October 2003 (when he first testified.) And it remains his answer today."
"He always truthfully denied that he was never part of any campaign to punish Joe Wilson by disclosing the identity of his wife," Luskin said.
Well, parsing Luskin carefully is necessary, and easy. Maybe there is a sense in which this was not a "campaign", maybe Rove disclosed Ms. Plame's role but not her "identity", maybe Rove did not mean to "punish" Joe Wilson (I believe that, too) - this denial may have been a bit too cute, if it is really what he told the President.
Of course, it depends on what the President asked, and wanted to hear - "Tell me if you did anything illegal" may draw a different response than "Tell me if you have anything at all to do with leaks to reporters about Joe Wilson's wife".
Now, is there any way to read this story as something other than Rove Overboard? Well, yes, and since this is the AP, let's not rule it out.
SUPPOSE Luskin, Rove's attorney, was speaking on background when describing his client's chat with the President and then went on the record with the Rove denial. In other words, Luskin is one of the "people with knowledge of Rove's account in the investigation" in the first paragraph, and he is anonymous because what's said in the Oval Office stays in the Oval Office (i.e., "Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, declined Friday to comment on the specifics of the discussions with Bush").
IF, I say if, that is the case, then Luskin is the primary source for both the headline grabbing lead and the Rove denial; the AP glammed up Luskin's response to "What did Rove tell the President" in order to strike sparks. FWIW, here is the toned down version of the AP story, for smaller, Redder newspapers. [In the UPDATE, Murray Waas is more specific about sources, so scratch this idea.]
This next bit actually reads as good news for Rove:
In addition to Rove's discussions with reporters, investigators are also looking into a delay in learning about Rove's contact with Cooper and an e-mail between Rove and now-National Security Adviser Steve Hadley that referenced the conversation.
Cooper's contact with Rove did not come up in Rove's first interview or grand jury appearance, but he volunteered the information and provided the email during a second grand jury appearance.
That is good news? Rove held back key evidence during his first session with the grand jury (and, per Newsweek, p. 3, in his early meeting with the investigators), and that is a good thing?
The Rove-colored glasses are available through Amazon - check the right column.
OK, I'm serious about Rove's testimony - this article is worded to strongly suggest not that Rove denied a contact with Cooper, but that the subject was never raised.
Had he been asked specifically about Cooper and denied it, that would be bad. If his position is, I forgot, it was a two minute chat before I ran out the door, but my e-mails reminded me... well, that is better.
Of course, Rove may have been asked a general question about any relevant contacts other than with Novak. One presumes he would have been savvy enough to caveat any reply with "As best I recall".
(Yes, this is old ground).
Fitzgerald (and Rove) should have had access to the e-mail by March 2004.
UPDATE: Murray Waas excerpts himself at his blog (but fails to provide a link to the full story - waddya gonna do?).
He has more at the National Journal.
And note his sourcing - "according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the accounts that both Rove and Bush independently provided to federal prosecutors." That should cover someone other than Luskin, so scrap the theory that Luskin was the main source for all of this.
Here is Rove's "I forgot" defense:
In his first interview with FBI agents working on the leak probe, Rove similarly did not disclose that he had spoken to Cooper, according to sources close to the investigation,
But in subsequent interviews with federal investigators and in his testimony to the grand jury, Rove changed his account, asserting that when the FBI first questioned him, he had simply forgotten about his phone conversation with Cooper. Rove also told prosecutors that he had forgotten about the Cooper conversation when he talked to the president about the matter in the fall of 2003.
A minor point - that timing seems to differ from the AP, which said that Rove got it wrong in his first grand jury appearance, and brought up Cooper in Round Two..
Another tiresome "I told you so" moment:
Sources close to the leak investigation being run by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald say it was the discovery of one of Rove's White House e-mails-in which the senior Bush adviser referred to his July 2003 conversation with Cooper-that prompted Rove to contact prosecutors and to revise his account to include the Cooper conversation.
Great stuff on the Rove-Novak talk:
Then there is the matter of the source-reporter relationship between Rove and Novak. Rove, in giving his assurances to the president in the fall of 2003, did not say he had served as a corroborating source for Novak's column about Plame.
Sources close to Rove say he simply did not know at the time that Novak had used him to corroborate the Plame information published in the July 14 column. Rove did not discover that until after his initial interview with the FBI, sources say.
Indeed, Rove's story to investigators was that when he said to Novak in July 2003, "I heard that, too," he was essentially telling Novak that he had heard the same information through the grapevine. Rove said he thought the information about Plame was hearsay and speculation, and that he was surprised to later learn that Novak had considered him one of two administration sources for his column.
A person close to Rove and familiar with his account said in an interview: "There was nothing about the context in which he was asked, or the substance of the conversation itself, that would have led Karl to believe that he was confirming-or even being asked to confirm-anything for the column."
Terrific job by Mr. Waas - read it all.
MORE: Brilliant walk to nowhere by the Anon Liberal, who wonders about Mr. Waas's sources. Excellent background and speculation, but no answers.