By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006 7:42 AM
Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's lawyer, says he spent most of the day on May 12 taking his cat to the veterinarian and having a technician fix his computer at home.
He was stunned, therefore, when journalists started calling to ask about an online report that he had spent half the day at his law office, negotiating with Patrick Fitzgerald -- and that the special prosecutor had secretly obtained an indictment of Rove.
The cat's medical tests, Luskin says, found that "the stools were free of harmful parasites, which is more than I can say for this case."
The claim that President Bush's top political strategist had been indicted in the CIA leak investigation was written by a journalist who has battled drug addiction and mental illness and been convicted of grand larceny. That didn't stop more than 35 reporters -- from all the major newspapers, networks and newsmagazines -- from calling Luskin or Rove's spokesman, Mark Corallo, to check it out.
The reports appeared on the liberal Web site Truthout.org, run by Marc Ash, a former advertising man and fashion photographer in California. Jason Leopold, the author of the stories, directed inquiries to Ash, who says that "we stand by the story. We have multiple points of independent confirmation of what we originally reported. Our problem is, the prosecutor's office is under no obligation to go public."
Leopold acknowledges in a new book, "News Junkie," that he is a past liar, convicted felon and former alcoholic and cocaine addict. An earlier version of the book was canceled by publisher Rowman & Littlefield last year.
Salon retracted a 2002 piece by Leopold involving then-Army Secretary Thomas White. Salon apologized, saying it had been unable to confirm the authenticity of an e-mail that Leopold attributed to White. Leopold, a onetime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Dow Jones, accused the online magazine of being "wimpy" and caving to pressure.
"Jason is a character, but he's been straight with me and I've checked him out very carefully," Ash says.
In an interview with liberal radio host Ed Schultz, Leopold said his sources had given him "detailed information" about the alleged marathon meeting at Luskin's law office that he said was attended by Rove and a Secret Service detail. Leopold said that while "I totally look like I'm wrong," he still believes the indictment story is true.
Rove has testified five times in Fitzgerald's investigation of White House officials' leaking to the press that Valerie Plame, the wife of an administration critic, was a covert CIA operative. Fitzgerald is examining whether Rove misled investigators by initially failing to recall that he had discussed Plame with Time reporter Matthew Cooper.
Leopold's May 12 report said Rove had told the president and top administration officials that he would be indicted and planned to resign. The next day, a Saturday, Leopold reported that Fitzgerald had handed Rove's attorneys an indictment of their client on charges of perjury and lying to investigators, and that an announcement was expected the next week.
Luskin calls the reports "absolutely bizarre. I'm waiting for him to tell me whether Fitzgerald had the chicken or the pasta. . . . There was no meeting, no communication with Fitzgerald's team of any kind."
As the phone inquiries continued through that Saturday night, Luskin says, "some of the reporters felt somewhat demeaned by having to call. It's the editors saying to them, 'I don't care what you think; call up and get some kind of response.' . . . The cumulative weight of all this malicious speculation is really disruptive."
While no other news organization touched the report, word spread through blogs and Internet sites. According to the Detroit Free Press, the keynote speaker at a banquet of Michigan trial lawyers announced the indictment, bringing the heavily Democratic audience to its feet.
Was a bit of impersonation involved as well? Corallo says a man identifying himself as London Sunday Times contributor Joe Lauria called about the story, which Corallo told him "borders on defamation." The man left what turned out to be a wrong number. After Leopold told a liberal blogger that Corallo had told him that the story bordered on defamation, Corallo reached Lauria, who acknowledged that he had dinner with Leopold days before the call.Pulling the Strings
Joe Klein says some of his best friends have ruined politics.
They are the consultants, the behind-the-scenes geniuses (when they win) and idiots (when they lose) who, in many media accounts, are pulling their clients' strings like puppet masters.
But if the likes of Robert Shrum, Karl Rove, James Carville, Joe Trippi, Chris Lehane, Mark McKinnon, Tad Devine and the rest have sucked every last speck of candor and spontaneity out of the process, as the Time columnist contends, aren't journalists partly to blame for treating them as demigods?
"The reason is, they're so damn colorful," says Klein, who chastises the gunslingers-for-hire in his new book, "Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid." "They're a lot of fun. That's why you find them clogging up the airwaves as well."
But it's more than that. The strategists, who are masters of spin, provide reporters with behind-the-scenes narratives about the inevitable campaign infighting.
For Klein to poke his finger in the eye of those who have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with him and countless other journalists is entirely in character. This is, after all, the guy who confounded his colleagues by writing the novel "Primary Colors" as "Anonymous" and not owning up to his authorship for several months.
Reporters and consultants make natural allies because they speak the same language. For journalists uncomfortable with making judgments about character, Klein says in an interview, "money raised, endorsements gotten and poll numbers are the be-all and end-all in politics."
Not that Klein is immune to consultant fever. In May 2002, as candidates were competing for Shrum's services, Klein wrote in Slate that "the first contest of 2004 will be the Shrum primary" -- and now admits that if Shrum signed onwith John Kerry, "I hoped for a fresh source of campaign information." (Once Shrum joined the Kerry camp, says Klein, he turned out to be a "lousy source.")
Klein credits the consultants with being savvy operatives but blames the presidential candidates for allowing these advisers to drain them of interesting thoughts. Kerry, he writes, ran "one of the most conventional, consultant-driven, market-tested campaigns imaginable." As for the president, "it's absolutely true of Bush as well, but they keep the secrets better," he says.
The columnist found himself on the defensive last month after suggesting on ABC's "This Week" that a nuclear option against Iran should remain "on the table."
Klein later wrote that he'd made a mistake and was forced to admit it by "all the left-wing screeching" from "frothing bloggers." While bloggers can be "a valuable corrective," he wrote, at other times "your vitriol just seems uninformed, malicious and disproportionate."
He had already drawn the ire of the liberal blogosphere by writing that former House speaker Newt Gingrich has plenty of great ideas. A onetime liberal who concedes in his book that he once might have been "in the tank" for Bill Clinton, Klein says he is now a moderate -- but not, he insisted in the interview, "some sort of creepy, covert conservative."Reporter's Money Trail
USA Today is standing by its report that BellSouth and Verizon were among the telecommunications giants cooperating with the Bush administration's tracking of millions of phone calls, despite denials from the companies. Now the reporter who broke the story, Leslie Cauley, has come under criticism from conservative activists who accuse her of political bias. They point to records showing that in 2003, Cauley gave the maximum $2,000 contribution to Dick Gephardt's Democratic presidential campaign.
USA Today policy says that staffers "should not openly support political campaigns." But at the time, spokesman Steve Anderson says, Cauley "was between jobs and was writing a book."
Well, the administration is out of the closet now when it comes to going after the press:
"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security," says the Wall Street Journal.
"The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly."
Looks like this congressman needs a really good defense lawyer:
"Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), the target of a 14-month public corruption probe, was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affidavit released yesterday," The Washington Post reports.
"A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers, the document said."
And speaking of money and videotape, Ron Burkle, the L.A. billionaire who secretly taped Page Six scribe Jared Paul Stern asking him for money, may be no stranger to such tactics:
"Newly unsealed documents in billionaire Ron Burkle's divorce include allegations by his former wife that he spied on her, their young son and her boyfriend," says the AP .
"The documents, released late Friday, also included a declaration from Burkle's 29-year-old daughter that her father once told her his security staff had videos of wife Janet Burkle and her boyfriend having sex.
"Burkle's attorney, Patricia L. Glaser, disputed the allegations in a letter to the Los Angeles Times. 'Mr. Burkle never told his daughter any such thing,' Glaser said. 'There are no such videotapes. There was no such eavesdropping. This is not true.'
"The declaration came in support of Janet Burkle's 2003 application for a court restraining order, which was denied. The allegations were withdrawn and the divorce court judge ruled they were inadmissible, Glaser said."
If Adam Nagourney and Dan Balz agree on something--such as that the Republicans will have trouble holding the House--it must be true.
Here's Nagourney's NYT piece:
"For months, even in the face of an avalanche of bad news for Republicans, Democratic ambitions for capturing Congress have collided with an electoral map created to protect Republicans from ouster. Despite polls showing rising support for Democrats and scorn for Republicans, analysts have said Democratic hopes for big gains remain remote, because so few seats are in contention.
"That appears to be changing.
"Over the past week, a handful of once-safe Republican Congressional seats have come into play, and other Republican incumbents are facing increasingly stiff re-election battles, according to analysts, pollsters and officials in both parties. The change amounts to a slight but significant shift in the playing field, and a potentially pivotal change in the dynamics of this midterm election."
And here's the WashPost piece by Balz and Michael Shear:
"With approval ratings for Bush and congressional Republicans at a low ebb, GOP strategists see signs of weakness where they least expected it -- including a conservative, military-dominated suburb such as Virginia Beach -- and fear that their problems could grow worse unless the national mood brightens.
"Some veterans of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress see worrisome parallels between then and now, in the way once-safe districts are turning into potential problems. Incumbents' poll numbers have softened. Margins against their Democratic opponents have narrowed. Republican voters appear disenchanted. The Bush effect now amounts to a drag of five percentage points or more in many districts."
The New Republic sounds off on my favorite issue of late, what the Dems should do if they take back the House:
"The truth is, it is not impeachment Republicans fear; it's simply oversight. Since 2001, Congress has sat idle as the executive branch gradually proclaimed new powers for itself, and it has aided and abetted Bush's every failure by refusing to operate as a check on his administration. So, while Democrats are wise to distance themselves from the I-word, they shouldn't be bullied into abandoning promises to aggressively investigate the Bush administration. In fact, they should be running on the issue, not away from it.
"GOP control of Congress deserves to end this year, not least because Republicans have abused--and then abandoned--government oversight. Six years of chasing every wild accusation leveled against the Clinton administration have been followed by almost six years of near-total deference to the executive branch. In the Clinton years, a single House committee, Government Reform, issued over 1,000 subpoenas and spent millions of dollars investigating the White House and the Democratic Party. More than two million pages of documents were handed over. In one inquiry alone--the grave matter of the politicization of the White House Christmas list--Republicans took 140 hours of testimony.
"Nobody wants to return to those days--except perhaps to experience the sheer delight of watching a congressman solve the Vince Foster 'murder' by shooting a pumpkin. But, in terms of congressional oversight, what has followed in the Bush years is even worse than the abuses of the Clinton years: nothing. Congress has brushed off the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. In the rubberstamp House of Representatives, the abuses at Abu Ghraib have merited a total of a dozen hours of sworn testimony. The use of propaganda by government agencies? A collective yawn from the GOP. The housing and urban development secretary's boast of denying federal grants to contractors who dislike Bush? Silence."
CNN commentator and ex-Clintonite Paul Begala backtracks a bit on his criticism of Howard Dean, but still thinks the party's strategy is wrong:
"I should never, ever have denigrated young men and women who are working in the political trenches in places like Mississippi and Utah. I was being arrogant and flippant when I said they're just picking their noses. Mea culpa. You live by the smart-ass quip, you die by the smart-ass quip.
"What prompted that comment was a report that the Democratic National Committee had raised $74 million, but only had $10 million cash on hand. This in contrast to a Republican National Committee with $43 million cash on hand. That disparity is a crisis . . .
"I am deeply frustrated with a party establishment that does everything except tell people what we stand for. They spend millions on voter files, field work, phone banks, staff, consultants, etc. . . . and yet people don't know what we stand for. I am not opposed to hiring organizers. I'm opposed to pretending that hiring organizers is in any way a substitute for having a message."
That front-page NYT piece on how Airbus was considering selling standing-room-only seats was not just wrong--nobody had asked the company whether the idea was still alive--but went uncorrected for a week. Public Editor Byron Calame spanks the paper:
"A major gaffe was that editors at various levels got caught with their skepticism down, fascinated by the story's Wow! factor. The seat was an idea that they apparently found bizarre yet believable in light of the airlines' continual efforts to jam more passengers into planes."
Are books very 20th century...or even 15th? Jeff Jarvis has moved on, so to speak:
"I have nothing against books.
"But the book is an outmoded means of communicating information. And efforts to update it are hampered because, culturally, we give undue reverence to the form for the form's sake. Publish or perish, that's the highest call of our intellectual elite. But any medium that defines itself as a medium is in trouble: newspapers, broadcast TV, broadcast radio, and books. They are all faced with new and better means of doing what they do without regard to the limitations of any one medium.
"The problems with books are many: They are frozen in time without the means of being updated and corrected. They have no link to related knowledge, debates, and sources. They create, at best, a one-way relationship with a reader. They try to teach readers but don't teach authors. They tend to be too damned long because they have to be long enough to be books."
On the other hand, they can't flourish unless people buy them--the ultimate market test.