I'd never heard of Robert Luskin before he became Karl Rove's lawyer, but he's sure getting his moment in the spotlight now.
I'm sure he's a fine attorney, and it can't be easy handling a supercharged case like this. But I've been wondering about Luskin's role since he started giving interviews on behalf of his embattled client.
When news first surfaced in early July that Time's Matt Cooper had talked to Rove about that now-famous CIA operative that Fox's John Gibson calls "little wifey," Luskin told The Washington Post: "Karl did nothing wrong. Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity to Mr. Cooper or anybody else," adding that the question remains unanswered: "Who outed this woman? . . . It wasn't Karl."
This answer now seems to be a) hair-splittingly legalistic, b) misleading, or c) flatly untrue. You decide. Depends on the meaning of the word "disclose," I guess.
Days later, Cooper said in federal court that he would testify after all -- he was to go to jail that day -- after receiving, in "dramatic" fashion, a personal release from his source. In an interview with The Post, Luskin "said Rove was not the source who called Cooper yesterday morning and personally waived the confidentiality agreement."
This, too, seems at variance with the facts. Cooper has now publicly confirmed it was Rove. I suppose it may depend on the meaning of the word "called" -- Cooper never said he spoke to the source personally, and this was undoubtedly worked out by lawyers -- but the Luskin denial did seem to give the wrong impression.
Ultimately it's unfair to blame the lawyer. Rove could have a press conference today and clear up the questions about this, without interfering with the investigation in any way. But if Luskin is going to act as his spokesman, it's fair to hold him accountable for what he says.
Turns out that Luskin, in 1998, had to return $245,000 in fees from a client convicted of drug-money laundering. The settlement with the Justice Department, which argued that the attorney should have known he was receiving tainted money, followed the disclosure that Luskin had accepted half a million of his payment in gold bars.
Ryan Lizza | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050725&s=lizza072505 is pretty tough on Luskin in the New Republic:
"Over the last two weeks, Luskin has flummoxed Washington's Fourth Estate with spin and legalisms. He has embarrassed reporters who ran with the cleverly worded denials he dished out. He has contradicted himself, sometimes within the same news article. He may have accidentally paved the way for Matt Cooper's Wednesday grand jury testimony about Rove. . . .
"Every Washington scandal eventually shifts from the political realm to the legal realm, a moment when those being investigated retreat from public view and their lawyers step forward. It is a make-or-break moment for the Beltway defense attorney, and one of the reasons that people like Luskin relish such high-profile cases. But Luskin is stumbling out of the gate. Not since William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky's hapless first attorney, has a lawyer had such an inept public debut. . . . Luskin tried to snow every reporter he came across."
Lizza cites Luskin's "Karl didn't disclose Valerie Plame's identity" comment to The Post. "Maybe Luskin thought he was being technical and legalistic, but it's hard to see this statement as anything but a lie. For instance, one could say, 'Karl Rove's lawyer accepted 45 gold bars worth $505,125 from a South American drug cartel.' The statement does not actually mention Luskin's name, but even Luskin would have to agree it identifies him.
"Luskin fed versions of the Rove-didn't-identify-Plame line to the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal, but, on July 6, he made what seems to have been a mistake. Cooper was headed to prison last Wednesday, but, when his lawyer picked up that morning's Journal, just one sentence after Luskin's now-familiar fib was a bonus quote: 'If Matt Cooper is going to jail to protect a source, it's not Karl he's protecting.' Cooper and his lawyer seized on that statement as evidence that Rove was willing to release the reporter from his pledge of confidentiality. . . .
"This episode launched an entirely new series of Luskinisms. Cooper publicly announced that his source had granted him consent to testify. Reporters naturally called Luskin to find out whether Rove was that source. No way, said Luskin. Rove had 'not contacted Cooper about this matter,' Luskin assured the Los Angeles Times. Get it? Rove didn't talk to Cooper. Their lawyers talked. What's bewildering about Luskin's evasion is that there was no legal rationale for it. After all, the prosecutor in the case knew exactly what had happened."
The New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/15/politics/15rove.html?hp&ex=1121486400&en=bac819afc84e3590&ei=5094&partner=homepage advances the story by tying Rove to . . . Novak:
"Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, spoke with the columnist Robert D. Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified a C.I.A. officer who was undercover, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said.
"Mr. Rove has told investigators that he learned from the columnist the name of the C.I.A. officer, who was referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and the circumstances in which her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, traveled to Africa to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq, the person said. After hearing Mr. Novak's account, the person who has been briefed on the matter said, Mr. Rove told the columnist: 'I heard that, too.' "
The Luskin comment: "Any pertinent information has been provided to the prosecutor."
The latest Democratic maneuvering, from the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/07/15/senate_rejects_bid_to_restrict_rove_access/:
"The Senate yesterday turned back a Democratic-led attempt to deny White House aide Karl Rove access to classified documents, as the dispute over the revelation that President Bush's top political adviser spread information about a covert CIA agent reached a new level of bitter partisan sniping."
The Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20050715-121257-9887r.htm frames it differently: "The partisan fight over Karl Rove exploded onto the Senate floor yesterday, with Democrats trying to strip him of his security clearance and Republicans retaliating by trying to strip the chamber's two top Democrats of theirs."
This Tim Noah | http://slate.msn.com/id/2122682/ post in Slate might be titled, Where's the Outrage?
"Why aren't the major newspapers running editorials calling for Karl Rove's resignation? The Washington Post is silent. So is the Los Angeles Times. Maybe they're waiting for more information. But what more do they have to know? The White House deputy chief of staff revealed the identity of an undercover CIA employee to Time magazine. He did this solely for the purpose of attacking the credibility of an administration critic. He did not check first to find out whether said CIA employee was undercover. Or perhaps he knew and didn't care. Either way, such reckless behavior is a firing offense. Next case.
"The New York Times weighs in with uncharacteristic timidity. (I knew we were in for noncommittal chin-pulling when I saw the headline, 'A Few Thoughts on Karl Rove.' In editorial-ese, 'A Few Thoughts on' is code for 'We Can't Decide About.') . . .
"The Times editorial concludes by calling for Rove to . . . answer his critics at a press conference. Why not call for Rove's resignation? My guess is that the Times feels the issue of Rove's culpability in this matter is tangled up with the issue of how we came to discover it, i.e., through Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's bullying of the press. To call on Rove to resign, the Times may believe, would be to legitimize a rogue prosecution that's landed Times reporter Judy Miller in jail. If that is the Times's thinking, it's totally wrongheaded. Whether the courts should force reporters to reveal confidential sources is a separate issue from whether sources, after they've been unmasked, should be held accountable by their bosses for improper communications. The First Amendment does not and should not guarantee Karl Rove lifetime employment."
From the opposite pole comes this New York Post | http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/25925.htm editorial with a great headline about "Rove Rage":
"A gleeful mob of Democrats and their news-media allies is demanding that President Bush immediately fire Karl Rove, his trusted adviser.
"What's next? Torches and pitchforks?
"Let's be clear: Clamoring for the president to abandon Rove, for the ostensible crime of publicly disclosing a CIA operative's identity, conveniently distracts from the real story here -- and it's a tale that shows the Bush-bashers at their most disingenuous. . . .
"(An interesting aside: Many of those now clamoring for Rove's head voted against the 1982 bill when it was first enacted. The New York Times, called it 'dangerous' and 'reckless.')
"And the evidence now being disclosed suggests that Rove was merely trying to warn Cooper away from Wilson's allegations -- a self-serving tip from the administration's point of view, but also a gesture made in service of the truth. For Wilson's claims have been wholly discredited on numerous occasions and in many ways by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the British government, among others.
"In fact, it turns out that Rove was right to warn him -- because just about everything that Wilson (who, by the way, quickly signed up with the John Kerry campaign) alleged in the article turned out to be false. . . .
"Frankly, we wish Karl Rove had explained all this long ago. After all, he had done the right thing."
Well, that's stronger than "a few thoughts about. . . . "
Speaking of rage, is GOP Rep. Peter King, on Scarborough, calling for physical violence | http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000978394?
KING: Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they're the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove.
Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/index-old.php focuses on the GOP counterattack:
"Now we can see in full view what we've seen again and again in recent years, the favored tactic: terror by grand moral inversion, the lie so total and audacious that it almost knocks opponents off their feet.
"John Kerry decorated war hero? No, coward and showboat. . . .
"Wilson, a whistleblower administration officials were trying to punish? A whistleblower calling out White House manipulated intelligence during the lead-up to war?
"Not at all. Rove was the whistleblower trying to knock down a campaign of disinformation from Joe Wilson. The audacity of it is enough to knock some people off their feet. Like I said, terror by grand moral inversion.
"And here we have them on their shows and newsprint boxes, having Plame simultaneously a glorified secretary and also a political operator scheming to upend the president's drive to war by sending her husband on a mission to Niger. What range!"
This just in: a Democrat feeling sorry for McClellan!
"Allow me a little sympathy for Scott McClellan who gets sent out to roast every day from the hot breath of the White House press corps," Mike McCurry | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/archive/mike-mccurry/a-little-sympathy-for-sco_4171.html says on the Huffington Post. "Been there, done that I would say. I was the press corps pinata for President Clinton during four zesty years that included l'affaire Monique. Sometimes it is the chosen assignment of the White House Press Secretary to go out and get whacked, over and over, to see if anything interesting will spill out.
"Press secretaries suck it up and suck it in because sometimes the brief you are given to argue is pretty slim goings. I am familiar with the answer 'we may not comment on that matter because it is the subject of an ongoing investigation.' It happens to be the right answer when people face legal jeopardy and might go to jail. Or when there is a determined assault on the principle of executive privilege (not to mention attorney-client privilege) as we faced during the Clinton years at the hands of Judge Ken Starr."
By the way, Raw Story | http://rawstory.com/news/2005/Exclusive_GOP_talking_points_on_Rove_seek_to_discre_0712.html has the GOP talking points on Plamegate.
The NYT is knocking down the notion that, as conservative columnist Cliff Kincaid is quoted as saying in the Forward | http://www.forward.com/articles/3660: "Speculation is mounting that Miller is protecting herself -- that Miller was herself a source of information about Plame that made it to several Bush administration officials and was then recycled to Robert Novak."
"Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis replied: 'Ms. Miller learned about Valerie Plame from a confidential source or sources whose identity she continues to protect to this day. If the suggestion is that she is covering up for herself or some fictitious source, that is preposterous. Given that she is suffering in jail, it is also mean-spirited.' "
Some loudmouth commentator -- actually, it was me -- wrote the other day, about Fox's initial disinterest in the Rove story: "Imagine if an e-mail had surfaced showing that a top aide to Clinton -- say, Sid Blumenthal -- had told a reporter about a covert CIA agent."
"It's a reasonable question," writes David Frum | http://frum.nationalreview.com/archives/07132005.asp#069495. "And as it happens, we know the answer.
"As a matter of fact, a Clinton aide -- not a top aide, but a political appointee -- did release personal information about one of Clinton's accusers, highly embarrassing information at that: I am referring of course to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Bacon's decision to release Linda Tripp's 3-decade old arrest record to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer.
"Bacon's actions -- unlike anything Karl Rove is said to have done -- were clearly illegal. And what happened in that case? Basically a big pile of nothing. There was never much media interest in the matter, and when eventually Bacon was reprimanded and issued an apology of sorts, the matter dropped from sight. Tripp's reputation suffered irreparable permanent damage; Bacon went on to a distinguished post-governmental career as president of Refugees International
"So there's our answer to Kurtz's hypothetical. Had this story involved a Clinton aide, the best guess is that what would have happened is: At least as far as the major media are concerned, he'd have gotten clean away with it."
For the record, Bacon was dismissed as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Tripp on grounds that he had qualified immunity as a government employee.
So based on this breaking news | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-rehnquist15jul15,0,6463155.story?coll=la-home-headlines from last night, with the chief justice dismissing "unfounded rumors," shouldn't the headline be: REHNQUIST NOT RETIRING, WEEKS OF MEDIA SPECULATION PROVE POINTLESS? Will every reporter who wrote a speculative story about his "expected" retirement -- including Bob Novak, who said it would be last Friday -- now stand up and beg forgiveness?
Finally, the "Daily Show" must be even more important than I thought, as Slate's Dana Stevens | http://slate.msn.com/id/2122505/ devotes an entire piece to its new set:
"The advantages of the couch format are multifold. Guests can not only be seen from head to foot, giving us a sense of their physical presence, their posture, and even their choice of shoes; they can also use the space however they want.
"On the new Daily Show set, both desk and couch have been replaced by a large bean-shaped conference table in a drab grayish white, behind which both Stewart and his guest sit upright in rolling chairs. This setup gives the interview segment of the show a far more formal feel than before, like a Sunday morning public-affairs show or, worse yet, PBS's Charlie Rose, which I've always found to be the most visually (and often verbally) boring talk show on TV. As Stewart and the guest converse, we see them both only from the waist up, hands folded demurely on the table with their mugs and books between them. . . .
"It's easy to foresee the dampening effect the conference table might have on some of Stewart's more antic guests, like Will Ferrell (who cracked Stewart up a few weeks ago in a kind of meta-interview in which he unzipped his fly before pretending to nap on the sofa). The new conference table makes the Daily Show set a more serious place, closer to the world of news than entertainment; granted, the balance between the two is difficult to strike in a satire, but if it ain't broke, why fix it?"