WASHINGTON - Top White House aide Karl Rove arrived at the federal courthouse Wednesday for his fifth grand jury appearance in the Valerie Plame affair.
Escorted by his lawyer Robert D. Luskin, Rove went into the building for a closed-door session with the panel and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who is heading up the inquiry into who leaked Plame's status as a CIA officer to the news media in 2003.
Among other things the prosecutor is investigating why Rove originally failed to disclose to prosecutors that he had talked to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about the CIA status of Plame.
The undercover CIA officer was outed days after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found in Iraq.
Earlier Wednesday, Rove consulted with his private lawyers in preparation of his afternoon grand jry appearance. People familiar with the case, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, said Rove was to answer questions about evidence that has emerged since his last grand jury appearance last fall.
That new evidence includes information that Rove's attorney had conversations with Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak during a critical time in the case.
Months before Rove acknowledged speaking to Cooper about the CIA status of Plame, Novak told Rove's lawyer the White House aide might have disclosed Plame's CIA work to Cooper.
Fitzgerald has told Rove's legal team recently that he has not made any decision on whether to charge the presidential aide and Rove hasn't received a target notification that would indicate he is likely to be indicted, the people said.
His grand jury appearance comes a week after Rove, the architect of Bush's election victories, gave up his policy duties at the White House as part of an administration remake to return him to a fulltime focus on politics.
Wednesday's session is believed to be only the second time Fitzgerald has met with the grand jury which is examining questions left unanswered in the Plame affair. The only other time Fitzgerald was seen going before the new panel was Dec. 7.
An earlier grand jury expired Oct. 28, the day it handed up an indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. Libby is scheduled to go on trial next January.
Rove's legal problems stem from the fact that it was not until more than a year into Fitzgerald's criminal investigation that the White House adviser told the prosecutor about his contact with Cooper regarding Plame.
Rove says he had forgotten the Cooper conversation, which occurred several days before Plame's identity was revealed by conservative columnist Robert Novak.
Rove and Novak, who is not related to Viveca Novak, also had discussed the CIA status of Wilson's wife.
Other unfinished business in the probe focuses on the source who provided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward information about Plame, whose CIA identity was leaked to Novak in July 2003.
Plame's identity was exposed eight days after her husband alleged that the U.S. government had manipulated prewar intelligence to exaggerate an Iraqi nuclear threat.
Woodward says his source, who he has not publicly identified, provided the information about Wilson's wife, several weeks before Novak learned of Plame's identity. The Post reporter, who never wrote a story, was interviewed by Fitzgerald late last year.