One of President Bush's most trusted advisers, Karl Rove, is now enmeshed in a legal and political controversy over the leaking of a CIA operative's name two years ago. 

At the heart of the Rove controversy is an assertion made by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address about attempts by then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to build a nuclear weapons program.

 "The British government has learned that [Saddam] Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Mr. Bush said.

The White House later backed away from that claim after it was revealed that the allegation was based on forged documents.

In July of 2003, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote in the New York Times  that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA the previous year to check out the uranium link with Iraq but had found no evidence that any such deal had occurred.  He also accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's nuclear weapons program to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

A few days later, syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that unidentified Bush administration officials had told him that the idea for Ambassador Wilson's mission to Niger had originated with his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative.

Under certain circumstances, divulging the identity of a covert intelligence operative can be a criminal act.  That is why special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was asked to investigate the case in December of 2003.

Matthew Cooper
Karl Rove's involvement in the case was recently confirmed by his lawyer who said his client did discuss CIA operative Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, but not by name.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case and several news organizations now report that Mr. Rove testified that he also spoke with columnist Robert Novak about the Plame case, but that he learned of Ms. Plame's identity from journalists and not other government officials.

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson says President Bush should stand by his stated commitment to fire anyone who knowingly leaked the identity of a covert intelligence operative.

"Irrespective of whether a law has been violated, it is very clear to me that the ethical standards to which we should hold our senior public servants has been violated," Mr. Wilson said.  "And it is for that reason that I have called for not Karl Rove's resignation, but for the president to honor his word that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak."

Opposition Democrats have seized on the controversy over Mr. Rove to demand that he either be fired or, at the very least, that his high level security clearance be suspended.

"The White House's credibility is at issue here and I believe very clearly that Karl Rove ought to be fired," said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The White House says the president continues to have confidence in Mr. Rove, who has been one of his most trusted political advisers since Mr. Bush's days as governor of Texas.

Mr. Bush says he will withhold comment until the special prosecutor completes his investigation.

"I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation.  I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports," Mr. Bush said.

Congressional Republicans have rallied to Mr. Rove's defense.  They accuse Democrats of turning the leak investigation into a political issue as a way of hammering away at the president.

Jeb Hensarling is a Republican congressman from Texas.

"Democrats should end their trial by headlines, their character assassination and their constant Bush bashing," Congressman Hensarling said.

The key legal question remains whether Karl Rove or any other administration officials knowingly divulged Valerie Plame's identity or covert CIA status in discussions with journalists.

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper agreed to testify before the grand jury after he was released from a pledge of confidentiality by Mr. Rove.

"I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not.  That is something the special counsel [prosecutor] is going to have to determine," he said.

But New York Times reporter Judith Miller remains in jail on a contempt of court charge for refusing to testify about her contacts with government officials in connection with the leak case.