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Top White House aide Rove testifies in leak case

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 27 (Reuters) Karl Rove appeared yesterday before a US grand jury probing the leak of a CIA officer's identity but his lawyer said there was still no sign the top presidential adviser will face charges in the case.

Rove remains under investigation but has not received any indication from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about whether he would be charged, attorney Robert Luskin said.

''He testified voluntarily and unconditionally ... to explore a matter raised since Mr Rove's last appearance in October 2005,'' Luskin said in a statement. ''Mr Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.'' Fitzgerald has told Rove, President George W Bush's top political adviser, that he is not a target of the investigation, Luskin said, meaning that he has not received a letter indicating that legal charges are likely.

Fitzgerald declined to comment. Rove left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

The deputy White House chief of staff has now testified five times before the grand jury as part of the investigation into who blew the cover of CIA officer Valerie Plame after her husband, Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush administration for manipulating intelligence in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

LIBBY TRIAL WITNESS Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis ''Scooter'' Libby, was charged in October with lying to FBI agents and a grand jury during the investigation.

Libby has pleaded not guilty and plans to call Rove as one of his witnesses at his trial, scheduled to start in January.

Rove and Libby spoke to reporters about Plame before her identity was made public by columnist Robert Novak in July 2003.

The most significant public development since Rove last testified in October is the disclosure by Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak that she told Luskin that Rove had talked to a fellow reporter about Plame.

That conversation prompted Luskin to dig up a previously undisclosed e-mail showing that Rove had spoken to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Luskin turned the e-mail over to Fitzgerald, leading Rove to acknowledge before the grand jury in October 2004 that he had spoken with Cooper.

Cooper has also testified to the grand jury about his conversation with Rove.

Viveca Novak and Robert Novak are not related.

Asked about Rove's grand jury appearance, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: ''I have no new information on that matter, and even if I did have new information I wouldn't be in a position to share it with you.'' New York Democratic Sen Charles Schumer said: ''This additional Rove visit clearly shows that the Plame investigation is far from over. ... While obviously no one knows what goes on in the grand jury, the fact that Karl Rove has been called back once again is ominous.'' REUTERS SRS RAI0413

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