Almost three hours after Karl Rove entered the grand jury chambers yesterday morning, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald walked hurriedly from the room and toward the waiting reporters.
"Just going to the men's room," he announced, continuing past the media pack. "Don't want to create any buzz."
The first part of what Fitzgerald said was true. But not wanting to "create any buzz"? It's a bit late for that.
When you call the president's closest adviser for a fourth grand jury appearance, and grill him for 41/2 hours with no guarantee he won't be prosecuted, you're pretty much guaranteed buzz. In addition to the 15 journalists lurking outside the grand jury room on the third floor of the Prettyman courthouse -- the same chambers graced by Monica Lewinsky seven years ago -- there were TV cameras encamped at each of the four exits to the building and media spotters stationed in the lobby.
While Rove testified, three women dressed as condoms, and a fourth with a stocking over her head, distributed "Karl Rove Brand" prophylactics in front of the courthouse. The nine demonstrators, coordinated by the antiwar group Code Pink, chanted "Some things should never leak! Fire Karl Rove!"
The hot-pink condoms, with a smiling photo of Rove on the wrapper and the same "Some Things Should Never Leak" message, promised to be effective against pregnancy, AIDS and STDs.
"Any of the condoms want to say something to the microphones?" one of the camera operators asked. But the latex-clad demonstrators had nothing to add.
The president's chief political strategist was no more forthcoming, at least in public.
Rove, arriving well before the Code Pink crowd, entered the courthouse at 8:45 a.m. with his lawyer, Robert Luskin. He said nothing when one of the reporters asked, "Any comment, sir?" Pete Yost of the Associated Press tried again. "Karl," he said, "If it came down to a root canal or a couple of hours with Fitzgerald, what would you do?" This caused Rove to turn back and look, but he remained silent.
After the witness entered the grand jury area, the U.S. marshal who was accompanying him returned to warn the reporters: "No questions in the courthouse -- even if they're dumb ones."
By 11, the journalists on stakeout duty were getting jumpy; Judy Miller's last appearance before the grand jury took only 70 minutes, so people did not expect Rove to go for hours. Each time the waiting reporters saw a blurry figure on the other side of the frosted-glass door to the grand jury rooms, they jumped into position. But they were subject to a series of false alarms: a court stenographer, some marshals, a different grand jury breaking for lunch, a guy looking for a key to the jury-room bathroom.
Still, network producers called their camera crews outside with urgent updates: "We're getting closer! . . . We might get movement. . . . He owns a Jaguar!" At 12:40, a stampede started when the two court artists walked toward the elevators, causing the whole group of reporters to dash after them; it turned out the artists were only inspecting Halloween decorations outside Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson's office.
After four hours, the reporters on stakeout duty speculated about events inside the grand jury: Did Rove's unusually long testimony mean he was having trouble reconciling his past accounts? Or had he slipped out through a back door and was at that very moment lunching in the White House Mess?
As worries spread that the latter had occurred, Fitzgerald's grand jury finally emerged. The men and women who would judge Rove, 11 of them black and four white, were mostly older, and casually dressed in jeans, sneakers or sweaters. They were followed by Fitzgerald and his legal team, lugging huge briefcases.
"I'm leaving and going back to my office -- that's all I can say," disclosed the prosecutor, hesitantly, as if he had already said too much.
At 1:13, 41/2 hours after he entered, Rove emerged with Luskin and a beefy marshal, who shouted as the reporters approached: "We don't ask questions in the United States courthouse!" Rove, who had been asked questions in the courthouse all morning, raised his eyebrows and smiled.
Reporters followed him into the elevator, but Rove's only remark was about the AP reporter's cell phone. "How come he gets to use his phone in here?" asked the usually wired witness, who was not allowed a telephone while speaking to the jury.
Rove and Luskin almost trotted through the lobby. "Not supposed to take questions," Rove whispered to one White House reporter as the marshal kept hollering, "No questions in this building!"
Outside, there were 18 cameras waiting for Rove and a cacophony of shouted questions. But the witness and his lawyer hopped silently into a waiting Ford Taurus.