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Rove testifies before panel in CIA leak investigation

WASHINGTON -- Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, testified yesterday before a federal grand jury trying to determine whether an administration official leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer.

Rove spent more than two hours testifying before the panel. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said this showed that Rove was ''doing his part to cooperate" in the probe, as ordered by Bush.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said prosecutors have assured Rove he is not a target of the criminal investigation.

Before testifying, Rove was interviewed at least once by investigators probing the leak. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also been interviewed in their offices, with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez, and McClellan among the administration officials appearing before the grand jury.

Rove's testimony in the yearlong investigation is occuring as the hotly contested presidential race between Bush and Democrat John F. Kerry enters the final weeks.

Kerry senior adviser Joe Lockhart issued a statement calling on Rove and other aides to ''come clean about their role in this insidious act."

''If the president sincerely wanted to get to the bottom of this potential crime, he'd stop the White House foot-dragging and fully cooperate with this investigation," Lockhart said.

Steve Schmidt, Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman, alleged that Kerry's campaign ''is spreading rumors and working to politicize a legal investigation."

The special prosecutor in the case, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, declined comment through a spokesman.

Disclosure of the identity of an undercover intelligence officer can be a federal crime if prosecutors can show the leak was intentional.

The investigation focuses on who disclosed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who named her in a newspaper piece on July 14, 2003.

Novak's column appeared after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote a newspaper opinion article criticizing Bush's contention that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger -- an assertion the CIA had asked Wilson to check out.

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