A helpful e-mail for Karl Rove

Does an e-mail message get Rove off the hook in the Plame case?

Published October 30, 2005 8:49PM (EST)

Michael Isikoff has a short item in Newsweek suggesting a possible reason why Karl Rove may have escaped a Plamegate indictment -- and though we don't thoroughly understand it, we still find it intriguing. On Oct. 25, Isikoff reports, Plame prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Jack Eckenrode, the FBI agent in charge of the case, visited the offices of Rove's attorney Robert Luskin to gather what's being billed as "last-minute evidence" meant to exculpate the presidential advisor. The evidence was a short e-mail message Rove sent to Adam Levine, a former White House press aide (and not the lead singer of the pop group Maroon 5). In the e-mail, Rove told Levine to come up to his office to discuss a personnel issue, but the message's contents are not as important as its timing: Rove sent the message at 11:17 a.m. on July 11, 2003, just a few minutes after Rove had spoken to Matthew Cooper, the Time magazine reporter whom Rove had told about Joseph Wilson's wife's CIA connection.

When Levine came up to Rove's office, Rove didn't tell Levine that he'd just spoken to Cooper -- even though he probably should have, since Levine worked in the press office. What does this tell us? It could tell us nothing at all. But Isikoff suggests it may have given Fitzgerald a reason to cut Rove some slack over a big mistake he'd made in his first appearance in front of the grand jury -- his failure to disclose his call with Cooper.

See, one way to explain that failure is to use the L-word: Rove was lying to the grand jury about his contacts with reporters about Plame. But another, more innocent explanation may involve the F-word. In his first grand jury appearance, Rove simply forgot about that call with Cooper. And the Levine e-mail, Isikoff says, may have lent credence to this "Karl Rove just forgot" story line; after all, if Rove forget to tell Levine about the Cooper call just minutes after it had occurred, it's perfectly reasonable that he also forgot to tell the grand jury the same thing many months later. He's a busy man! He forgets! Happens to the best of us!

But really? Couldn't Rove have failed to mention the Cooper call to both Levine and the grand jury for the same reason -- i.e., because he wanted to keep it a secret? After all, he'd just told a reporter that the wife of one of the White House's critics worked at the CIA. Why would he want to talk about doing that?

So as we said, we're not sure what to make of this so-called last-minute evidence. But if this is really what got Rove off the hook, it looks like a very thin reed to us.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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