At Arianna’s HuffPo party last month, Mickey Kaus was surprised when I told him I did not think Bob Luskin was a liar. In several posts here, I’ve had my fun with Luskin’s endless media spinning on behalf of his most famous client, Karl Rove, but I have never said he is a liar. That was then.
Rove’s lawyer is now an on-the-record liar. The proof: Luskin told the Washington Post the other day that if Rove escapes indictment, it won’t be “the product of my particular skill or cleverness.” Whenever prominent Washingtonians resort to humility in print, they are lying at minimum about their state of mind. Luskin’s lie runs deeper than that. The truth is Rove is not yet indicted exclusively because of his lawyer’s “particular skill.”
The Washington Post profile that provoked Luskin’s one-and-only public lie stresses how good Luskin is at both the legal complexities of criminal defense work and the much simpler but time-consuming task of spinning/using the Washington press corps. If Luskin wasn’t brilliant at both of those things, Rove would be indicted now. Luskin’s use of Viveca Novak in his last minute meeting with Patrick Fitzgerald as the first grand jury’s term was expiring is what left Fitzgerald with only one name to indict.
When the FBI started investigating the case, Rove did not tell them that he was Matt Cooper’s source. Lying to the FBI is a crime. Then Rove did not tell the grand jury that he was Cooper’s source. Lying to a grand jury is perjury. The only defense Rove has to those charges is memory failure, which is an effective defense if credible. Enter Viveca Novak.
Luskin then has a conversation with Time reporter Viveca Novak, who the Washington Post describes as a friend of his. For Rove, this turns out to be the most important friendship Luskin has. Here’s Novak’s friend David Corn’s account of the chat:
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."
Corn’s stated mission in this account is to prove what a good person and honorable reporter Novak is. “Novak wasn’t trying to tip off Luskin …” Uh huh. But she did. Why was a Time reporter discussing Time’s secret source with Rove’s lawyer? No other Time reporter did that. Corn’s Novak defense could not be more tortured. He says she didn’t know who Cooper’s source was, that she didn’t tell him anything, she just “pushed back.” Then he quotes another friend of Novak saying, “She assumed that Luskin did know about the Rove-Cooper conversation and that she was not telling him anything he did not already know.” So, according to that friend, Novak did know Rove was Cooper’s source and she did tell Luskin. With friend/defenders like these … Hey, I like Viveca Novak too. Everyone does. But in this case, she may have more to answer for than any other reporter involved.
You’re Rove’s lawyer. You’re sitting there with a Time reporter discussing another Time reporter’s secret source. You say it wasn’t your client. The Time reporter says that’s not what I hear. You try not to fall off your chair and keep the conversation going. This moment made every hour Luskin has ever spent working the press worth it. And it made every penny Rove has paid Luskin not enough.
Luskin then tells his client that the word inside Time magazine is that he is Time’s source. Rove then conducts a “new” email search at the White House and finds one of his quickies written right after his fateful conversation with Cooper that shows, well, yeah, he was Cooper’s source.
Luskin then brings that email to Fitzgerald and explains that they just found it and it has jogged Rove’s memory. Rove would now like to return to the grand jury and tell them about being Cooper’s source. Fitzgerald obliges.
Luskin knows that Rove is still in trouble after he corrects his testimony. As indictment week approaches, Luskin has a final meeting with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s problem had always been why did you guys suddenly go looking for new stuff. This time the answer is Viveca Novak. Luskin tells Fitzgerald about his conversation with Novak and says that’s what made him ask Rove to do another email search.
You’re the special prosecutor. You’re on the verge of indicting one of the most powerful White House aides in history on lying to the FBI and perjury. His lawyer makes a last minute pitch that really muddies your waters. At trial, the lead prosecution witness is going to be a Time reporter testifying about his conversation with the defendant. Now you learn that the lead defense witness is going to be another Time reporter testifying about her conversation with the defense lawyer. You know this is going to sound too weird for a jury to get past reasonable doubt. You don’t indict.
Instead, what Fitzgerald is doing now is getting Viveca Novak under oath to check how her story is going to sound to a jury. If Fitzgerald does not indict Rove after hearing from Novak, then it will be Viveca Novak who saves Rove. Which is to say it will be Luskin’s relationship with the press, with Viveca Novak in particular, that saved Rove. If Rove beats the rap, it will definitely be the product of Bob Luskin’s particular skill and cleverness.