WASHINGTON -- Top White House political aide Karl Rove made his fifth grand jury appearance in the Valerie Plame Wilson case yesterday, undergoing several hours of questioning about a new issue that has come to light since the last time he testified.
The special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, declined to comment after the grand jury session.
Rove appeared at ease as he left the US courthouse, joking to journalists to ''move to the back" as the White House aide, his lawyers, and several reporters entered an elevator to leave the building.
A week ago, Rove, the architect of President Bush's election victories, gave up his policy duties at the White House.
He is returning to a full-time focus on politics, as Republicans face challenges in the upcoming midterm elections.
The session yesterday is believed to be only the second time Fitzgerald had met with a new grand jury examining questions left unanswered in the leaking of Plame Wilson's CIA identity. The only other time Fitzgerald was seen going before the new panel was on Dec. 7.
The term of the previous grand jury looking into the CIA leak expired on Oct. 28, the day it indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, on five counts of perjury, obstruction, and lying to the FBI.
The only new issue in the CIA leak inquiry known to involve Rove is a contact that his lawyer, Robert Luskin, had with a Time magazine reporter, Viveca Novak.
In that contact, Novak told Luskin that Rove might have disclosed Plame Wilson's CIA status in 2003 to another Time reporter, Matt Cooper.
The Luskin-Novak conversation occurred many months before Rove belatedly revealed to the prosecutor that he had spoken with Cooper. Rove has said that he had forgotten about his conversation with Cooper.
Rove's legal problems stem from the fact that it was more than a year into the CIA leak investigation before he revealed the Cooper conversation.
Rove ''testified voluntarily and unconditionally at the request of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove's last appearance," Luskin said.
''Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges."
Several days after Rove's conversations with conservative columnist Robert Novak and with Cooper in July 2003, both the columnist and Cooper wrote stories identifying Plame as a CIA officer.
Her CIA employment was exposed little more than a week after her husband, former US ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, accused the Bush administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate an Iraqi nuclear threat.
Robert Novak is not related to Viveca Novak.
Other unfinished business in the inquiry has focused on the source who provided information to Bob Woodward of The