Eight days after outing Valerie Plame in his newspaper column, Robert Novak suggested in an interview with Newsday that someone in the White House had reached out to him with Plame's identity. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," Novak said then. "They thought it was significant. They gave me the name, and I used it." A couple of months later, he gave the story a different spin on CNN. "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this," Novak said. "In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on [Joseph] Wilson's report, when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing."
What happened in between? According to a new report from Murray Waas, Novak talked with Karl Rove on the day he made his CNN comments, just three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the FBI to investigate the Plame leak. In that conversation, Waas' sources say, Novak assured Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the leak probe. Waas says his sources have "firsthand knowledge" of the grand jury testimony provided by both Novak and Rove. Waas says that those sources say that Novak told Rove something like, "You are not going to get burned" and "I don't give up my sources."
Citing "officials with direct knowledge" of the matter, Waas says that the Rove-Novak conversation left federal investigators "suspicious" that the two men "might have devised a cover story" to hide Rove's involvement in leaking Plame's identity. Investigators were so suspicious, Waas says, that they briefed then Attorney General John Ashcroft on the call.
Waas says that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is unlikely to use the conversation as the basis for a conspiracy charge against Rove or Novak, in part because it's hard to prove what was said between the two men, especially if they're both prepared to lie about it.
Novak's lawyer refused to talk to Waas for his story. As for the Rove camp, Waas quotes Rove spokesman Mark Corallo's strikingly narrow denial: "Karl Rove has never urged anyone directly or indirectly to withhold information from the special counsel or testify falsely." Of course, Rove wouldn't have had any need to urge anyone to withhold information or testify falsely if the anyone in question was already offering to do so first.