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David Corn

David Corn

Posted: December 3, 2005 06:50 PM

What Happened Between the Second Novak and Rove's Laywer (An Exclusive?)


I have solved the Not-So-Great Mystery of the Second Novak--at least in part.

As readers of my blog and regular followers of the CIA leak case know, the latest bounce involves Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak, who has been called to testify by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald about conversations she had with Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's lawyer, long after Rove participated in leaking the CIA identity of Joseph Wilson's wife to columnist Bob Novak (who is unrelated to Viveca Novak). Luskin, according to sources close to Viveca Novak, was a longtime source of hers, not a close friend (as has been wrongly reported). Media reports have noted that during at least one of their talks, Viveca Novak said to Luskin that Rove might have told Time's Matt Cooper (prior to the leak that appeared in Bob Novak's column) that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA.

Why does this matter? It seems that Luskin is pointing to his conversation with Viveca Novak to back up Rove's defense against the charge that he purposefully misled the FBI and Fitzgerald's grand jury by initially not telling them about his conversation with Cooper. In a later grand jury appearance, Rove did acknowledge he told Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA. The question for Fitzgerald has been whether Rove first tried to hide this information from his investigation.

Luskin apparently is claiming that Rove had forgotten about his conversation with Cooper but that once Viveca Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection Rove then requested a White House records search that produced an email that supposedly refreshed his memory of this talk with Cooper. Consequently, Rove reappeared before the grand jury and disclosed this conversation. In this Rove-friendly account, the Luskin-Novak conversation provides an exculpatory explanation for the discovery of an email that led Rove to change his story before the grand jury. As I noted yesterday, it would be a rather odd twist if Novak, an accomplished public interest-minded investigative reporter for years, offers evidence that helps keep Rove indictment-free. And the accounts so far have made it seem that Novak may have done something untoward by either speaking out of school about a colleague's source or by actively trying to assist Luskin and Rove.

Now, according to completely trustworthy sources close to Viveca Novak, this is what happened. Novak wasn't trying to tip off Luskin or to help him. During a conversation, Luskin said to Viveca Novak that Rove had never spoken to Cooper about Valerie Wilson. Novak instinctively pushed back, in the way many a reporter would challenge a source whom he or she believes is spinning or lying. "She assumed that Luskin was giving her BS," one close-to-Novak source says. "And she replied with something along the lines of, 'This is not what I hear.' She assumed that Luskin did know about the Rove-Cooper conversation and that she was not telling him anything he did not already know."

Maybe Luskin knew about the Rove-Cooper chat; maybe he didn't. Perhaps this exchange got Luskin thinking one of three things: (A) I better check this out; (B) oh no, the word is getting out that Rove did speak to Cooper; or (C) maybe my client did not tell me everything. In any event, a record search did ensue that produced an email referring to Rove's conversation with Cooper. With the discovery of this document, Rove had little choice but to correct his previous testimony.

"Viveca is not a gossip," says one source close to her who's familiar with what happened. "She is very discreet. She did not go running to Luskin. When Luskin said that there was no way Rove could be Cooper's source, she called him on it. That's all that happened."

The sources close to Novak all insist that Novak did not disclose any information about Cooper's source--of whom which she was not even certain--to anyone outside the magazine except for this exchange with Luskin, during which she offered nothing more than a vague, though pointed, reference.

I've known Viveca Novak for close to 20 years, and this all squares with my nothing-but-positive impression of her. (Interest disclosed: I used to regularly play basketball with her husband, a career labor lawyer, whom I always had trouble guarding.) Will Novak's slip (if that's what it was) of the lip end up bolstering Rove's defense? If so, it's not because she aimed to do that, and, it seems, it's not because she did anything wrong.

This was first posted at www,davidcorn.com. Please check out that blog for other good stuff.