President George Bush's right hand man, Karl Rove, yesterday found himself at the centre of the controversy over who revealed the name of a secret CIA agent, after Newsweek revealed that he was a source for a story that appeared in Time magazine and for which two reporters are facing prison.
In a development that could prove extremely damaging to the Bush administration, two lawyers close to the case say that emails between the Time reporter who wrote the story and his editors indicate that the reporter spoke to Mr Rove.
Mr Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that his client had been interviewed by Matthew Cooper for the article, but denied that Mr Rove provided the crucial information that exposed the identity of the agent.
Mr Luskin told Newsweek that Mr Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information".
But the two lawyers who spoke to Newsweek said there was growing concern that prosecutors now have their sights set on Mr Rove, the architect of Mr Bush's rise.
The controversy relates to the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went on a CIA-sponsored trip to investigate whether Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.
Some time after his return Mr Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the case for going to war.
Annoyed by Mr Wilson's public statements, two unnamed officials reportedly told the syndicated rightwing columnist Robert Novak that Ms Plame was a CIA "operative" and had helped arrange his trip to Niger.
Mr Novak published the claims, sparking accusations that an undercover agent's identity had been disclosed, placing both her and her sources in physical danger, for partisan political purposes.
At the time, Mr Wilson said he believed that Mr Rove was the source, but the accusation was dismissed by the White House as "totally ridiculous".
It is a crime knowingly to divulge the identity of an undercover CIA operative and the leak prompted such a row that the justice department ap pointed a special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, to investigate. It is believed that Mr Novak has reached a deal with the special prosecutor, which is why he is not being pursued by authorities.
Two other reporters, Mr Cooper from Time magazine and Judith Miller from the New York Times, who followed up the story have been threatened with jail for contempt of court unless they reveal their sources.
Time Inc has been also charged with contempt and threatened with huge fines because it was in possession of Mr Cooper's notes that could be relevant to the case.
Last week the magazine submitted to judicial pressure, against Mr Cooper's wishes, and handed over the relevant documents to the judge. Among them were the emails which showed that Mr Rove was one of the sources for the story.
Mr Luskin insists Mr Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA," but according to Newsweek refused to discuss details.
In early October 2003, after Mr Novak's column appeared in July, Mr Rove called Chris Matthews, the host of the pop ular political talk show Hardball, and told him that Mr Wilson's wife was "fair game".
But Mr Luskin yesterday emphatically denied that Mr Rove had done anything untoward. "What I can tell you is that Cooper called Rove during that week between the Wilson article and the Novak article," Mr Luskin told the Los Angeles Times.
"But Karl absolutely did not identify Valerie Plame.
"He did not disclose any confidential information about anybody to Cooper or to anybody else."
Until recently the main public focus for the case has been on press freedom, with the two reporters facing jail on Wednesday for up to four months if they refuse to reveal their sources.
At the end of last week Mr Cooper and Ms Miller submitted papers requesting house arrest or particular prisons if they had to be jailed, after the supreme court refused to hear their appeal.
But with revelations that Mr Rove, branded Bush's Brain by detractors, was a source, interest is set to shift to Mr Bush's inner circle and in particular the way in which they deal with political opponents.