Rove lawyer: My client is not a target

Robert Luskin says Rove testified to "explore" recent developments in the Plame case.

Topics: War Room, Karl Rove,

Karl Rove seems to be done testifying before the grand jury — at least for today — and his lawyer is throwing some cold water on the indictment watch. In a statement distributed to the press, Robert Luskin says that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has advised Rove that he is “not a target” of his investigation.

“Target” is a term of legal significance here. The U.S. Attorneys’ Manual defines a “target” as someone “to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant.” If Rove isn’t a “target,” what is he? Scooter Libby’s lawyers have said that Rove is a “subject,” and Luskin has all but confirmed as much in the past. A “subject,” the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual says, is a person “whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.”

So what was this subject doing before the grand jury today? Luskin says his client returned to the grand jury to “explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove’s last appearance in October 2005.” That would suggest that Rove testified today about news that broke at the end of last year: the revelation that a Bush administration official leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Bob Woodward in June 2003 or the word that Time’s Viveca Novak tipped off Luskin in early 2004 to the fact that Rove had leaked Plame’s identity to Matthew Cooper.

But before reading too much into Luskin’s statement, let us say this about that. We know a little bit about federal grand juries, and we’ve never heard of anyone — particularly anyone in legal jeopardy — going before a grand jury to “explore” anything. People testify before grand juries because they have to or because they think doing so will get them out of whatever jam they’re in. Which description describes Rove? Luskin’s statement was pretty circumspect; he said that his client testified “voluntarily” and “unconditionally” today, but he also said that he did so at Fitzgerald’s request. Our translation: Rove and Luskin, eager to show Fitzgerald and the world that they’re “cooperating,” didn’t insist that the prosecutor serve them with a subpoena in order to compel Rove’s appearance.

Update: Truthout is reporting that sources “knowledgeable about the probe” are saying that Fitzgerald has notified Luskin in a letter that his client is, in fact, a target of the investigation. At the federal courthouse in Washington, a spokesman for Rove just told Salon’s Michael Scherer that the report is “utterly false.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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