What comes next for Karl Rove?

He hasn't been indicted, but he's not necessarily out of danger yet.

Published October 28, 2005 8:20PM (EDT)

So what will become of Karl Rove? At the press conference that just ended, reporters tried every way imaginable to get Patrick Fitzgerald to explain his plans for the president's chief political advisor. Fitzgerald gave them virtually nothing. He said reporters were trying to read "tea leaves" he wasn't giving, and he reminded them that they're not "supposed" to know what's going on with a grand jury.

Here's what we know, or at least what we think we know. Over the course of the last week, the New York Times reported repeatedly that Rove had been advised that he "may be in serious legal jeopardy." The Washington Post reported that one of Fitzgerald's prosecutors was still asking a former White House aide about Rove as late as this week. And Roll Call reported that Fitzgerald met personally with Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, on Tuesday.

So what happened? Fitzgerald won't say. He wouldn't say today if he expected more indictments; he wouldn't say today if anyone other than Libby is still in legal jeopardy; he wouldn't say today if he would enlist the assistance of another grand jury; and he wouldn't say today whether the grand jury whose term expired today had declined to issue any indictments that he sought.

Luskin issued a statement today, but it was both careful and cryptic. He said that Fitzgerald hasn't made a decision and that Rove's "status" hasn't changed, meaning -- if the Times had its story straight -- that Rove still may be in "serious legal jeopardy." But if that's the case, wouldn't Fitzgerald have wanted to keep his grand jury alive just in case he decides to seek an indictment? Probably, but there's another purely speculative possibility to consider: In return for an agreement not to indict him today, Rove could have signed an agreement waiving his right to have charges brought by way of indictment. With such an agreement in hand, Fitzgerald could take the time he needs to make a decision and then charge Rove -- if he decides to charge him -- by way of a criminal complaint issued by the prosecutor himself.

Update: Although there was speculation as late as last night that Fitzgerald would seek to extend the term of his grand jury, several readers have pointed out that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure would have prohibited such an extension. So while Fitzgerald may well have wanted to keep his existing grand jury around, that option was apparently not available to him. And while a reader notes in the comments below that a waiver of indictment must be made in open court -- something Rove obviously hasn't done yet -- we're not aware of anything that would have prevented Fitzgerald and Rove from entering into an agreement by which Rove would commit himself to waiving indictment if and when charges are filed against him. Indeed, such agreements are commonly used in the context of plea bargains.

By Tim Grieve

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

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