Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald

The Washington Post Saturday has an article on Viveca Novak and Robert Luskin that reveals Luskin told Novak Rove was not in any trouble in PlameGate over drinks in early 2004. Viveca reportedly replied that wasn't what she had heard and disclosed, almost as water-cooler talk, that she heard Rove had been a source for Cooper.

David Corn thinks he has solved the mystery. He presents Viveca Novak's side of the story. Corn also discloses he regularly used to play basketball with Viveca Novak's lawyer-husband.

The more I read about Viveca Novak and Luskin, the more I think it's a loose end and largely irrelevant. It's a last ditch, but probably irrelevant effort by Luskin and Rove to avoid a perjury charge. The real issues as I see them are:

  • Robert Novak told Karl Rove on July 8, 2003, two days after Joseph Wilson's op-ed appeared in the New York Times, that Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and had a role in sending Wilson to Africa to check on whether Iraq might be acquiring uranium from Niger. Rove responded, "I heard that too."

  • Fitzgerald wants to know where Rove first heard this. In October, 2003, before there was a grand jury and while Ashcroft still had the case, Rove, like many White House employees was questioned by the FBI. Rove told a false story. He's toast on this. Fitzgerald is going to charge him with making a false statement to investigators. Only if this is all he is charged with, and if Fitzgerald gives him a sentence reduction for cooperation, can Rove avoid jail.
  • Rove testified to the grand jury in February, 2004 and reportedly mentioned his call with Novak but not with Cooper. He said he first learned about Valerie Plame Wilson from a reporter, but he couldn't be sure which one. He reportedly also said he might have discussed it with someone in the White House who had heard it from a reporter.
  • Fitzgerald is trying to determine whether Karl Rove's February, 2004 grand jury testimony was a lie or the product of a faulty memory. What he cares about is not Cooper, but whether Karl Rove learned about Valerie Plame not from a reporter but from the White House, and specifically, through either the White House Iraq Group or the June 10, 2003 classified memo that found its way onto Air Force One on July 7, 2003. Scooter Libby knew in June, 2003. He discussed Valerie Plame Wilson with Ari Fleischer at lunch on July 7, 2003. Wouldn't he have also discussed it with Rove, when they were both members of the White House Iraq Group which was meeting weekly at that time? It's doubtful it was news to Rove when he wrote the July 11 e-mail to Stephen Hadley?

This is all about whether Fitzgerald will charge Rove not only with making a false statement to investigators in 2003 but perjury before the grand jury in 2004. If he only charges the former, Rove will probably plead guilty with a sentence reduction for cooperation. If he charges both, Rove will have to fight, same as Libby. It would mean real jail time.

Whether Viveca Novak talked out of school to Luskin makes for an interesting discussion on journalist ethics, but is not going to provide the answer as to whether Rove lied during his February, 2004 grand jury appearance. I suspect that Luskin is telling Fitzgerald when he told Rove what Viveca said, Rove said he had no recollection of talking to Cooper, and Luskin took it upon himself to go through his e-mails again, whereupon he found the July 11 Hadley-Rove e-mail and with Rove's permission, turned it over to Fitz with a request that Rove be allowed to correct his testimony to the grand jury. Another (but less likely) possibility is that Luskin will say he didn't pass Viveca's information on to Rove, but took it upon himself to re-examine Rove's e-mails before mentioning it to Rove.

Rove is toast because of his false statement to investigators before there was a grand jury. He has no defense to that charge. He's not getting a complete pass and he knows it. This is all about his attempt to avoid jail. The question is, can he limit Fitzgerald to a false statement charge and avoid a perjury charge?

I'm sticking to my theory posited here :

Either it will be revealed in coming weeks that he made a plea bargain with Fitzgerald to plead guilty to making a false statement to investigators prior to his grand jury testimony in exchange for no jail time and not being charged with perjury before the grand jury, obstruction of justice or with leaking Valerie Plame Wilson's identity or CIA status -- or he will be indicted and fight because Fitzgerald won't agree to no jail time.

And here:

I think ultimately Rove will plead guilty to a single false statement charge for lying to investigators rather a perjury count of lying to the grand jury. But he may have more hoops to jump through before Fitzgerald decides the value of his cooperation and how great a reward he should receive. If he can't get Fitzgerald to agree to recommend a downward departure to a probationary range, he probably will fight.

Some background on Rove's different versions:

Raw Story:

Those close to the case say that Rove was caught up in a game of semantics when he was questioned by FBI investigators, insisting to federal agents that he was not the individual who had leaked Plame-Wilson’s identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak. Novak was the first to make public her name and CIA status in a July 14, 2003 column.

Rove told investigators that he merely passed along information about Plame-Wilson to other journalists and White House officials after it had already appeared in Novak’s column, the attorneys said. He maintained, they added, that it was entirely within his right to do so being that Plame-Wilson’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was publicly criticizing the Bush Administration and had claimed in a New York Times op-ed that it had “twisted” prewar intelligence to build public support for a preemptive military strike against Iraq.

According to lawyers, Rove did not tell FBI investigators in 2003 that he had spoken with Novak prior to his column being published and had been one of the two “senior administration officials” cited in Novak’s column as having confirmed Plame’s identity and CIA employment.

Here is a selection of news articles outlining when various reporters spoke to Rove and Libby:

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    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    An exquisite post - richly detailed and yet very easy to follow for layfolk. Endless thanks on behalf of all of Greater Plamelandia.

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    off topic, deleted.

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    Link to Corn post isn't working. :( Here's a little help: David Corn Thanks for all the work you (and others) have been doing to help us keep this story straight.

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    Oops. Here's the "permalink" to Corn's posting. Corn Sorry, I'm still not completely awake, even though it's past noon.

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    Excellent post. Its been difficult for me to keep up with all the ins and outs of Rove's part in this..and frankly the Post's piece seems a lot like a regurgitation of Luskin's talking points and little else. Your addition of Corn's thesis and your own help "unmuddy" this a great deal. Thanks.

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    Thanks much everyone. In re-reading the news articles I linked to above, the puzzle seems to be from whom Rove first heard about Wilson's wife before July 8 when he responded to Novak's disclosure with "I heard that too." I think it has to be from Hadley or Libby. The problem for Rove is that he said he first heard it from a journalist:
    Asked by investigators how he knew enough to leave Mr. Novak with the impression that his information was accurate, Mr. Rove said he heard portions of the story from other journalists, but had not heard Ms. Wilson's name.
    A correction to the article says that the source for this information was not Rove himself but "someone who had been officially briefed on the investigation."

    Re: Rove, Luskin, Novak and Fitzgerald (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    This is excellent, Jeralyn. I agree with your analysis of the whole Viveca issue, and why it's not that important. I also think you are right about how Luskin would have reacted to that information. I do have a question about your central point that Rove is already on the hook because of false statements to investigators. Are you saying that Rove denied even talking to R. Novak about this before Novak's article came out? If that is true, then he really is toast. I do have a quibble regarding the importance of Rove's testimony about Cooper. He failed to disclose an interview with a reporter which took place before Novak's article, an interview in which Rove provided information identifying a covert CIA agent. Not only was this disclosure a possible violation of two national security statutes, but it also constitutes a very strong motivation for why he would want to lie about it. If Fitzgerald can show that this omission did not result simply from a faulty memory, the case for perjury is at least as strong as it is in the question of where Rove first learned about plame. In Rove's February 2004 testimony, he reportedly said that he first learned about Plame from a reporter. In a sense, he later recanted this testimony also. As I understand it, Rove later allowed as how he might have first heard about Plame from Libby. Rove can offer the same faulty memory defense to this mis-statement as he offers regarding his interview with Cooper. In the end, I believe Fitzgerald will have a very compelling story to tell. He will weave all of these conflicting statements and changing stories together with the obvious coverup motivations, and the faulty memory defense against perjury will appear very weak. If, on top of this, there is any evidence of withheld or manipulated emails and unrecorded or altered telephone logs, the case for obstruction will also be very strong.