The Cocktail That Saved Rove's Ass

It's been a week since Patrick Fitzgerald decided that he couldn't make the case against Karl Rove, and I'm amazed that more hasn't been made of the role Viveca Novak played in Rove's narrow escape from indictment. She was his human stay-out-of-jail-free card.

For those of you who don't remember this blip on the Plamegate radar, Novak was the Time magazine reporter who, over drinks with her old pal attorney Robert Luskin in the summer or early fall of 2004 at Washington's Café Deluxe, let it slip that his client Rove had been one of the sources who'd leaked the lowdown on Valerie Plame to Matt Cooper.

By the time Novak spilled the beans to Luskin, Rove had already appeared before the grand jury once and had told federal investigators he had no recollection of talking to Cooper. Novak's unconscionable blabbing about a colleague's source led Luskin to thank her and to do an email search which turned up a document noting that Cooper and Rove had indeed spoken. As the Wall Street Journal put it earlier this week:

But the issue of whether Mr. Rove genuinely forgot this conversation or purposely lied wasn't settled. A key sticking point for the prosecutor was how Mr. Luskin could have known that his client was a source for Mr. Cooper if Mr. Rove hadn't told him. Had Mr. Rove lied about not remembering the conversation?

Then, last October, Mr. Luskin's media relationships and his rapport with Mr. Fitzgerald bore fruit. During a pair of meetings with the prosecutor just before he was set to seek indictments, Mr. Luskin explained that he heard from Viveca Novak, who then worked at Time magazine, over drinks at a Washington bistro one night that chatter around her newsroom indicated Mr. Cooper considered Mr. Rove a source for information about Ms. Plame.

Mr. Fitzgerald then took testimony from her and had Mr. Rove return to the grand jury room to discuss this new information. Perjury cases are notoriously difficult to win because a prosecutor has to prove that a person willfully made false statements under oath. In this matter, legal experts say Mr. Luskin's discovery of the Hadley email and revelation of his discussion with Ms. Novak may have created enough reasonable doubt.
After loosening her lips to Luskin, Novak zipped them shut, saying nothing to her editors at Time while continuing to cover the Plamegate story. Making matters worse, in the fall of 2005 she appeared before Fitzgerald and still did not tell her editors at Time and still continued to cover the case. Eventually she acknowledged to her editors and Time's readers that she had played a key role in Rove's defense. Earlier this year, she quietly took a buyout at Time and now works for the Annenberg Center assessing, of all things, the honesty of campaign ads.

The sad truth is that Novak's perfidy did more to stymie the indictment of Karl Rove than anything else, and while it would be nice to believe that Rove may yet face criminal justice for his actions, it's unlikely that he will.

But even if he's never charged, Rove still confirmed the identity of a covert CIA operative to Bob Novak who then published it. He leaked it to Matt Cooper who, unlike either Novak, tried to expose what the Bush White House was up to. Rove then lied about being the source of the leak for a year, in the process hanging Scott McClellan out to dry by letting him tell the press and the American public that Rove had assured him he had no involvement with the leak.

And, even if you believe Rove's improbable tale that his conversation with Cooper had somehow slipped his mind, he was reminded of it by Viveca Novak via Luskin by the spring of 2004 and could easily have ended Cooper and Time's prolonged fight to protect him as a source and told the president that he had been one of the leakers (saving his boss from the embarrassment of vowing to fire anyone involved, then pulling back on that pledge once it became clear that that would mean cutting loose his beloved Turd Blossom).

But Rove kept his mouth shut, preferring swift boating and rousing the country to the threat of gay marriage. For all these reasons, Rove should not be allowed to remain a part of the administration and Bush should not be allowed to keep him on without shame.

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