The message reached Karl Rove on his BlackBerry: “FITZGERALD CALLED. CASE OVER.”
Strapped into his seat, his cell phone darkened in preparation for takeoff on a flight to New Hampshire, Mr. Rove quickly called his lawyer, Robert Luskin, in Washington, D.C., and he explained.
Around 4 p.m. on Monday, June 12, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald alerted Mr. Luskin that he had decided not to charge his client with a crime in the ongoing investigation into who leaked the name of C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame.
“Obviously, he was happy and relieved,” Mr. Luskin said. “And then the rest of the conversation is personal …. ”
If that all sounds a little close, consider the hothouse in which the relationship between Mr. Luskin and his client has been since the White House leak scandal was born.
“This has been a real long and emotional ordeal for him and his family,” Mr. Luskin said, “and, you know, I just want to leave the curtain down on that.”
Mr. Rove was busy late into the night after he landed in the Granite State, and so they decided to wait until the following morning to release the news.
What was most notable in Mr. Luskin’s brief statement was this line: “We believe that the Special Counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct.”
Mr. Luskin does not gnash his teeth at Mr. Fitzgerald.
“It’s not winning the lottery,” he said of the Rove case. “It’s just avoiding something that would be a truly horrendous injustice for your client …. You feel lucky to be part of a process that works fairly and intelligently.”
Actually, it’s the media—not the prosecutor’s office—that he’s angry at, and especially the bloggers. Mr. Luskin was eager to portray the suffering of his client as a function of media attention and speculation, rather than real danger of a conviction.
Mr. Rove, Mr. Luskin said, had fallen victim to partisans and—more importantly—the bloggers who became their enablers.
“It seems to me that there are lots of constituencies who have treated this as the story too good not to be true,” he said. “And people have all had their own reasons—whether they’re political, whether they have to do with opportunities to put themselves forward personally, whether or not they are motivated by efforts to show up the mainstream media.”
The criticism of blogging, in fact, goes right to the story of the White House’s relationship with reporters in the “mainstream media.”
“The big criticism of the mainstream media is that they live in this community, they’ve got continuing relationships with their sources and the people they write about, and the blogosphere says that that makes them spineless,” Mr. Luskin said. (Like Judy Miller?) “I think one can make the exact opposite argument, which is that the premise is true but that makes them accountable.”
He recalled an episode from last month, when a report on the liberal Web site Truthout.org, written by Jason Leopold and citing “high-level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting,” claimed Mr. Rove would be indicted on charges of perjury and lying to investigators, the results of a marathon session of negotiations in Mr. Luskin’s office that he claims never occurred.
(Mr. Leopold and his editor have stood by his report.)
“I think, by and large, the mainstream media was trying to do the very best that it could,” Mr. Luskin said, “recognizing that they felt accountable—I mean, you know, for what they said—and at the same time, I think, feeling some considerable pressure from the blogosphere.”
Mr. Leopold’s report was only one of hundreds of similarly false pieces of information spread around the Web, Mr. Luskin added.
And indeed, Mr. Rove’s five appearances before the grand jury gave reporters—mainstream and otherwise—plenty to speculate about. (So, for that matter, did Mr. Luskin’s own deposition.)
The weekend Mr. Leopold’s story went online, Mr. Luskin said he had “mainstream-media reporters calling me saying, ‘I’m embarrassed to make this call, because I know this can’t be true—I’ve covered this story, I understand the process, I’ve got my sources—but my editors tell me I need to call and ask, “Is there any truth in this?”’
“That is a function of the tension that there is now between the mainstream media and the blogosphere. On the one hand, it seems to me that the CBS National Guard stories were the poster child for the principle that sometimes the blogosphere keeps the mainstream media accountable, and it seems to me that this story is, if you will, the poster child for the fact that the blogosphere is itself often not accountable, and that there are a universe of folks out there who have got personal or political agendas who were masquerading as news sources. That is just as destructive in its own way, or more than the mainstream media’s insularity is on the flip side.”
Mr. Luskin said that he didn’t believe a single piece of evidence had exonerated his clients.
“I think it’s a mistake to look at this in dramatic terms and think somehow that there’s some particular piece of evidence that flies in over the transom at the last minute and turns things around,” he said. “[Fitzgerald] waited until the investigation was done, and when the investigation was done, he sat down and looked at all the facts—and some facts were more important than others. But that doesn’t mean that the last fact is the most important fact. That’s the mistake here—people just getting wrapped around the axle around this issue with Viveca Novak.”
Mr. Luskin’s appreciation of the mainstream media has its roots at least as far back as early 2004, when he learned for the first time of a conversation between Time reporter Matt Cooper and his client, over drinks with Ms. Novak, a former colleague of Mr. Cooper’s. He found documentation of their chat and immediately presented it to Mr. Fitzgerald.
After consulting with Mr. Rove on Monday evening, Mr. Luskin returned to the mundane routine of law-firm life, attending a three-hour meeting held for lawyers in the public-policy and litigation departments of Patton Boggs, the law and lobbying firm where he works.
“The scariest thing in the world is to be the lawyer for an innocent client, because all you can do is screw it up,” he said. “So from my personal perspective—and particularly because I like and respect my client so much—it’s a huge sense of relief that I didn’t manage to screw it up.”