An indictment for Libby? More time for Rove? And why?

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected today. Here's the latest speculation -- and a few questions to ponder -- while we wait.

Published October 28, 2005 12:55PM (EDT)

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is back inside the federal courthouse in Washington, and CNN says he'll make an announcement at 2 p.m. today. Until then, we're at a more advanced stage of where we've been all week: Waiting, speculating and watching the smoke signals.

The Associated Press says Dick Cheney arrived at work an hour early today!

Conventional wisdom seems to have converged quickly on two core assumptions. The first is that Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, will be indicted today, probably on charges that he lied to the grand jury about his involvement in Valerie Plame's outing. Libby reportedly told the grand jury that he learned about Plame from reporters; his own notes reportedly say that he learned about her from Cheney, and Judy Miller has testified that Libby told her about Plame, not the other way around. That's a problem, and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal suggest that it's likely to lead to his indictment.

The second bit of late-breaking conventional wisdom is that Karl Rove will be spared an indictment -- for now. The Wall Street Journal, relying on "a person briefed on the matter," says that Rove was "informed yesterday evening that he may not be charged today but remains in legal jeopardy." NBC News is reporting it the same way. And the Associated Press, relying on a source "familiar with recent developments in the case," is reporting this morning that Fitzgerald "signaled" last night that "he might simply keep Rove under investigation."

Everyone seems to agree that Fitzgerald might -- or might not -- obtain or announce additional indictments today. Everyone seems to agree that Fitzgerald might -- or might not -- indict or at least reveal the identity of whoever it was that first leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak. Everyone seems to agree that everything is still fluid and that just about anything could change between now and the time of Fitzgerald's expected midday announcement -- or even after.

So here's what we want to know. First, if the supposition about Rove's status is true, why does Fitzgerald need more time before making a decision? Maybe, after two years of work, he's still got more investigating to do: Earlier this week, his investigators were out interviewing Plame's neighbors, and one of his prosecutors was still asking a former White House aide questions about Rove. Or maybe Fitzgerald knows what he needs to know, and "more time to investigate" really just means "more time to negotiate." Fitzgerald was in contact with Rove's criminal defense lawyer this week; it's possible that they're working on some sort of plea bargain and just aren't done with it yet.

And that leads to our second question. In Robert Luskin, Rove has a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense. In Joseph Tate, Libby has a lawyer with some criminal experience but whose focus seems to be antitrust work. It's looking like Rove won't be indicted today. It's looking like Libby will be. Coincidence? Maybe. But most criminal defense attorneys will tell you that your best chance of beating an indictment comes before one is handed down. The Washington Post says that Libby is looking for a criminal defense attorney now. Why didn't he do that a long, long time ago? Why did he reportedly tell the grand jury that he heard about Plame from reporters when he knew, presumably, that his notes said otherwise? Did Libby think he could somehow outsmart or outlast Fitzgerald? That's another way of asking this: Has the same arrogance that led the country to war led Scooter Libby to the brink of a criminal indictment?

By Tim Grieve

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

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