Rove's return to the grand jury: Whatever it means, "it can't be good"

Everyone has a source, and everyone has an opinion.

Published October 7, 2005 1:06PM (EDT)

When it comes to Karl Rove's return visit to the grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame, it seems that almost everyone has a source willing to speculate about what's really going on -- and everyone else has an opinion about what it all means. Here's the rundown from today's papers:

What's it all about? The Los Angeles Times says that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating, among other things, whether White House officials, including Rove and Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, were "fully forthcoming with investigators about their knowledge of Plame and how her name became public." The New York Daily News, relying on a CIA official familiar with the investigation, says there are contradictions between's Rove's testimony and Libby's. The Washington Post says there's a conflict between Rove's testimony and that of Time reporter Matthew Cooper: Rove told the grand jury that the two men talked mostly about welfare during their telephone call on July 11, 2003; Cooper says they talked mostly about Joseph Wilson.

What is Patrick Fitzgerald up to? While one Rove friend tells the New York Daily News that Rove's invitation to return to the grand jury is merely a "pro forma development by a prosecutor tying up loose ends before deciding whether to bring charges," other sources offer other suggestions. The New York Times says that Fitzgerald has talked in recent days with lawyers for several administration officials, casting "a cloud over the inquiry" and "sweeping away the confidence once expressed by a number of officials and their lawyers who have said that he was unlikely to find any illegality." Sources tell the Times that additional White House officials are likely to be invited back for more testimony in coming days and that Fitzgerald may be considering new legal theories. Among them: the possible use of a provision in the federal espionage and censorship law that makes it a crime to "willfully" provide classified information about national defense matters to someone not entitled to receive it.

What does this mean for Karl Rove? Nobody knows for sure, but as one Justice Department official tells the Los Angeles Times, "It can't be good." A source close to Rove tells the Post that Rove and his lawyers are now "genuinely concerned" that Rove could face criminal charges. Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy to independent counsel Ken Starr, tells the Daily News that it would cause him "great concern" if one of his clients were called back to testify for a fourth time. "It sounds like Rove may be closer to being indicted," Wisenberg said. "There's no way somebody in Rove's position would go in a fourth time unless he was trying to save his own professional skin."

What's the risk in testifying again? As we said yesterday, the main risk is that Rove might introduce inconsistencies in his testimony. E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., a former federal prosecutor, tells Bloomberg News: "Imagine you're the guy sitting up on top of a barrel of water, only in this case, the barrel is filled with something much worse. Usually you don't volunteer to get back up on top of that barrel."

What does Rove's lawyer say? Not much. In an interview with Newsday, Robert Luskin declined to discuss the likelihood that Rove will be charged with a crime. "It is what it is," he said. "I don't want to comment on the chances. I'm not going to start grading this thing at, say, 30 percent or 40 percent like the president's approval rating." Luskin said yesterday that his client hadn't received a letter notifying him that he was a "target" of Fitzgerald's investigation, leading us to wonder if he might have received such notification in some other fashion. Luskin now seems to have ruled that out, telling Bloomberg that his client hasn't received any "notification" that he's a target.

And what is the New York Times saying? Times editor Bill Keller has promised previously that the paper will report fully -- and soon -- on the Judy Miller story, but he now says that effort may be delayed. There's a possibility that Fitzgerald will want to speak with Miller again, and Keller says the reporter has been warned by her lawyers not to discuss the substance of her testimony until she's sure that the grand jury is done with her. "We have launched a vigorous reporting effort that I hope will answer outstanding questions about Judy's part in this drama," the Times quotes Keller as saying. "This development may slow things down a little, but we owe our readers as full a story as we can tell, as soon as we can tell it."

By Tim Grieve

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

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