WASHINGTON (AP) – Columnist Robert Novak said for the first time Tuesday that he cooperated with the investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Novak’s decision to talk publicly came after he was notified a month ago by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that prosecutors would not seek criminal charges against one of Novak’s sources, White House political aide Karl Rove.

Fitzgerald “has informed my attorneys that, after two-and -one-half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded,” Novak said in a statement. He promised details of his cooperation in a column Wednesday in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Plame uncovered

Novak revealed Plame’s CIA employment on July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband, White House critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from weapons of mass destruction.

Novak’s secret cooperation with prosecutors while maintaining a public silence about his role kept him out of legal danger and had the effect of providing protection for the Bush White House during the 2004 presidential campaign.

According to The Washington Post, Novak’s column will say that he told Fitzgerald in early 2004 that Rove and then-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow had confirmed information about Plame.

Novak said he also told Fitzgerald about another senior administration official who originally provided him with the information about Plame, the Post reported. Novak said he cannot reveal the identity of that source even now.

“I have cooperated in the investigation while trying to protect journalistic privileges under the First Amendment and shield sources who have not revealed themselves,” Novak said in his statement. “I have been subpoenaed by and testified to a federal grand jury. Published reports that I took the Fifth Amendment, made a plea bargain with the prosecutors or was a prosecutorial target were all untrue.”

Starting in 2003, the White House denied Rove played any role in the leak of Plame’s CIA identity and Novak, with his decision to talk to prosecutors, steered clear of potentially being held in contempt of court and jailed.

Rove’s role in the scandal wasn’t revealed until last summer when Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper revealed that Rove had leaked him the CIA identity of Wilson’s wife. Cooper cooperated with prosecutors only after all his legal appeals were exhausted and he faced jail.

In his two-paragraph statement posted on the Sun-Times Web site on Tuesday night, the conservative columnist said he had remained silent at the request of Fitzgerald.

Rove escaped indictment but Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, has been charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI about how he learned of the covert CIA officer’s identity and what he told reporters about it.

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AP-ES-07-11-06 2103EDT

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