Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is Rove Really Off The Hook?

The conventional wisdom this weekend is that Karl Rove talked himself out of a perjury charge last week. Here's Michael Isikoff from NEWSWEEK with the story:

Nov. 7, 2005 issue - Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's decision not to indict deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove in the CIA leak case followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations between the prosecutor and Rove's defense lawyer, Robert Luskin. On Tuesday afternoon, Fitzgerald and the chief FBI agent on the case, Jack Eckenrode, visited the offices of the D.C. law firm where Luskin works to meet with the defense lawyer. Two sources close to Rove who asked not to be identified because the probe is ongoing said Luskin presented evidence that gave the prosecutor "pause." One small item was a July 11, 2003, e-mail Rove sent to former press aide Adam Levine saying Levine could come up to his office to discuss a personnel issue. The e-mail was at 11:17 a.m., minutes after Rove had gotten off the phone with Matt Cooper—the same conversation (in which White House critic Joe Wilson's wife's work for the CIA was discussed) that Rove originally failed to disclose to the grand jury. Levine, with whom Rove often discussed his talks with reporters, did immediately go up to see Rove. But as Levine told the FBI last week, Rove never said anything about Cooper. The Levine talk was arguably helpful to one of Luskin's arguments: that, as a senior White House official, Rove dealt with a wide range of matters and might not remember every conversation he has had with journalists. In any case, Fitzgerald made another visit early Friday morning—shortly before the grand jury voted to indict Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby—to the office of James Sharp, President George W. Bush's own lawyer in the case, to tell him the president's closest aide would not be charged. Rove remains in some jeopardy, but the consensus view of lawyers close to the case is that he has probably dodged the bullet.
So let me get this straight: Rove thinks he's off the hook for perjury because the Levine email shows he could have plausibly forgotten the Cooper conversation.

But didn't Rove email deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley right after he got off the phone with Cooper to tell Hadley he had "waved" Cooper off the Wilson story? And didn't that email disappear for a while before it mysteriously resurfaced and got to Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation team?

Didn't Michael Isikoff just cover this story a couple of weeks ago in NEWSWEEK?

Oct. 17, 2005 issue - The White House's handling of a potentially crucial e-mail sent by senior aide Karl Rove two years ago set off a chain of events that has led special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to summon Rove for a fourth grand jury appearance this week. His return has created heightened concern among White House officials and their allies that Fitzgerald may be preparing to bring indictments when a federal grand jury that has been investigating the leak of a CIA agent's identity expires at the end of October. Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer, tells NEWSWEEK that, in his last conversations with Fitzgerald, the prosecutor assured Luskin "he has not made any decisions."

But lawyers close to the case, who asked not to be identified because it's ongoing, say Fitzgerald appears to be focusing in part on discrepancies in testimony between Rove and Time reporter Matt Cooper about their conversation of July 11, 2003. In Cooper's account, Rove told him the wife of White House critic Joseph Wilson worked at the "agency" on WMD issues and was responsible for sending Wilson on a trip to Niger to check out claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. But Rove did not disclose this conversation to the FBI when he was first interviewed by agents in the fall of 2003—nor did he mention it during his first grand jury appearance, says one of the lawyers familiar with Rove's account. (He did not tell President George W. Bush about it either, assuring him that fall only that he was not part of any "scheme" to discredit Wilson by outing his wife, the lawyer says.) But after he testified, Luskin discovered an e-mail Rove had sent that same day—July 11—alerting deputy national-security adviser Stephen Hadley that he had just talked to Cooper, the lawyer says. In the e-mail, Rove said Cooper pushed him on whether the president was being hurt by the Niger controversy. "I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote Hadley, adding that he warned Cooper not to get "far out in front on this." After reviewing the e-mail, Rove then returned to the grand jury last year and reported the Cooper conversation. He testified that the talk was initially about "welfare reform"—a topic mentioned in the e-mail—and that Cooper then changed the subject. Cooper has written that he doesn't recall a discussion of welfare reform.

Why didn't the Rove e-mail surface earlier? The lawyer says it's because an electronic search conducted by the White House missed it because the right "search words" weren't used. (The White House and Fitzgerald both declined to comment.)

So I don't get it. How does the July 11, 2003 Levine email get Rove off the hook when clearly he thought the Cooper conversation was important enough to tell Hadley about it? Is Rove arguing he forgot the conversation after the Hadley email but before the Levine email?

Did Fitzgerald really buy this evidence as reason to pull back from indicting Rove on perjury or does he have something else up his sleeve for Karl? Is Fitzgerald waiting to see what testimony he can get out of Scooter Libby before he decides what to do with Rove/

And why would a reporter as good as Isikoff seemingly buy the Rove spin about the Levine email getting Rove off the hook when he just wrote about the "missing" Hadley email weeks before?

Strange stuff going on here. Despite the spin coming out of the White House, I can't believe Karl Rove is completely in the clear just yet. I think I'll wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to tell us he's completely done before I believe Turdblossom survived a perjury investigation.

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