The Liberal on Karl Rove's Case

Robert Luskin, left, with his high-profile client:
Robert Luskin, left, with his high-profile client: "Karl didn't do anything wrong." (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Karl Rove's greatest defender in Washington these days is a Democratic lawyer and onetime newspaper reporter named Robert Luskin. He is Rove's attorney in the high-stakes CIA leak case, and is widely credited with sparing his client from indictment so far.

But perhaps more intriguing is Luskin's other role. He plays the Anti-Rove.

Just look at the guy: Luskin, 55, wears a gold hoop earring and Euro-hip eyeglasses. He's buff and bald. (But bald in a good way.) He rides a black Ducati Monster motorcycle, which its maker touts as the bike of choice of "top designers" and "Hollywood stars." In his office he spins the CDs of antiwar balladeer Steve Earle and ex-punk Paul Westerberg.

Rove, the pudgy uber-operative also known as Bush's Brain, helped put a brush-clearing conservative Christian into the White House by bad-mouthing the liberal elites of this world -- people just like Luskin.

So how is it that a man of somewhat Neiman-Marxist tastes, a self-described liberal on social issues, became the potential rescuer of Rove, whom many on the left are salivating to see frog-marched from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

If you have to ask, say observers of the Rove-Luskin alliance, then you obviously haven't been in Washington very long.

"Bob Luskin is the perfect person for Rove," says Lanny Davis, a Clinton White House damage-control veteran and Luskin's former law partner at Patton Boggs, the power firm where Luskin plies his trade. "He is one of the few lawyers I know who gets it."

By that he means Luskin knows how to do the sharp lawyering required to wage a strong criminal defense -- all the while nudging reporters toward his position, attempting to soften public perception of Rove and getting out his client's side of the story.

Having worked in Washington for a quarter-century, and spending part of the Clinton years as a scandal attorney, Luskin has seen it all before. "Same plot, different characters," he says of the investigative dramas, such as the Valerie Plame outing case, that periodically grip Washington.

"Many lawyers are, media-wise, brain-dead," declares Davis, who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. "Bob gets how to be a lawyer and communicate effectively. Lawyers cannot operate just by no-commenting anymore."

And so it is that we find ourselves in Luskin's sunny corner office on the outskirts of Georgetown, listening to him comment. For three hours. It's never dull: There are stories about covering a '60s student revolt at Harvard; his stint as a speechwriter on Geraldine Ferraro's vice presidential campaign; his work cleaning up a Mafia-infested labor union; and the time he accepted payment from a client in gold bars and took heat from the feds for it.

His office decor reflects a raffish personality. On the coffee table sits a life-size articulated wooden hand, the kind figure-drawing students use, with its middle finger upraised. The words "Free Karl!" are scrawled in chalk on a slate clock hanging on the wall above his desk. (A flourish added by his colleagues, Luskin says.)

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