WASHINGTON — A grim silence fell on the White House this week as reporters pummeled administration spokesmen with questions about Karl Rove’s role in blowing the cover of Valerie Plame, a CIA covert agent, two years ago.

It is a crime to expose the identity of a CIA undercover officer and President George W. Bush vowed more than a year ago to fire anyone in his administration who leaked her name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

But now e-mails and other evidence point to Rove, Bush’s deputy chief of staff and closest confidante, as the culprit.

Michael Paradies Shoob, co-director of a documentary film about Rove titled “Bush’s Brain,” told the World by telephone, “Anybody who knows Karl Rove knows that he has leaked to Robert Novak before. This is vintage Karl Rove. He has used lies, dirty tricks and acts of vengeance like this since his days in the Young Republicans more than 30 years ago.”

Rosa Brooks, a law professor at the University of Virginia and a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, charged that an e-mail obtained by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald provides “a strong prima facie case for seeking an indictment against Rove” for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. “The fact that Rove claims neither to have known nor used Valerie Plame’s name is irrelevant,” she said.

MoveOn.org, the online activist group, launched a petition under the headline, “Bush, keep your promise: Fire Karl Rove.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who barely lost last fall’s election to Bush, said, “Rove ought to be fired.” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) nodded in agreement.

Plame was a victim of revenge, outed because her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, exposing as a hoax the story that Iraq was attempting to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger.

Wilson, a career diplomat, had gone to Niger at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney to investigate. He informed the administration that documents in the hands of British intelligence purporting to prove the Niger-Iraq uranium deal were forgeries. Yet Bush referred to those forgeries in his State of the Union address as proof Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons and must be pre-emptively invaded.

It is now known that Iraq had no nuclear weapons and no program to develop them.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to prison July 6 because she refused to divulge White House sources who revealed Plame’s identity to her. Miller never wrote the story about Plame. Novak did, but he is walking free while Miller is in jail. Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper narrowly avoided jail when his informant, Rove, gave him a “waiver” from the confidentiality promise.

Wilson released a statement that his wife and Miller are both victims of “the culture of unaccountability that infects the Bush White House from top to bottom.” He added, “Clearly, the conspiracy to cover up the web of lies that underpinned the invasion of Iraq is more important to the White House than coming clean on a serious breach of national security.”

The real victims of this cover-up, Wilson continued, “are the Congress, the Constitution and, most tragically, the Americans and Iraqis who have paid the ultimate price for Bush’s folly.”

Wilson charged that the affair “may have turned criminal,” meaning that if Bush himself is implicated directly, his actions would constitute an impeachable offense.

Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild/CWA, said Miller’s jailing “showed the need for a national shield law to protect press freedom to expose corporate and government wrongdoing.” The Guild is backing the Free Flow of Information Act of 2005 (HR 581 and S 340) to establish federal rules protecting journalists’ right to keep secret the names of sources to whom they have promised confidentiality.

Putting Rove’s actions in a broader context, Shoob said, “Karl Rove represents one of the most dangerous trends in American politics: There is no rule he won’t break to elect his candidate. He cooked the books to justify the war in Iraq. Maybe he cooked the books to win the 2004 election as well.”

Shoob stressed that the corporate media is also culpable, too timid to ask the tough questions on a cover-up that has been obvious for two years. Judith Miller herself peddled the lies of CIA informant Ahmad Chalabi that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, he pointed out.

“This special prosecutor has finally brought it to the point where the truth is coming out,” he said. “Rove has engaged in these dirty tricks for years but they finally have a smoking gun.”

For his part, Wilson wonders “whether or not we get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.”