Report: Fitzgerald may keep Rove waiting until Libby talks

But is it a tactical victory for the president's chief political advisor?

Published November 14, 2005 3:04PM (EST)

Justice delayed may be justice denied, but it can also be a political problem avoided. And maybe that's what explains the spring in Karl Rove's step these days.

Attorneys involved in the Valerie Plame investigation tell Murray Waas that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may not be able to make a final decision on Karl Rove's fate until the criminal case against Scooter Libby is completed. Even if Fitzgerald thinks he lacks the evidence to win a conviction against Rove now, Waas' sources say, he wouldn't rule out bringing charges against Rove later until he hears whatever he's going to hear from Libby himself.

Waas' sources say that Fitzgerald is interested in conversations Rove and Libby had with each other about Plame before Robert Novak revealed her identity in his column on July 14, 2003. Fitzgerald is apparently interested in testing Rove's vague recollection about where he first learned of Plame's identity -- as well as his claim that he and Libby were simply discussing information that they had heard from reporters.

To get to the bottom of those questions, Waas' sources say, Fitzgerald would like to hear more from Libby. That may take some time. Assuming that Libby doesn't strike a deal with Fitzgerald, it could be a year or more before a trial begins. And even then, there's no guarantee that Libby would actually take the stand and testify.

What does it all mean for Rove? On the one hand, it means that a cloud of investigation will continue to linger over Rove -- at least from a distance -- for a long time to come. On the other hand, it means that Fitzgerald is unlikely to make a decision to indict Rove anytime soon, leaving him free to remain at work for George W. Bush so long as the president will have him.

It also increases the incentive for Libby and his lawyers and their allies at the White House to drag out the Libby case as long as they possibly can. The longer Libby avoids trial, the longer he avoids the risk of implicating Rove -- or Dick Cheney, for that matter -- or of finding himself in federal prison. And if he can drag it out long enough, he can avoid those problems altogether: A pardon from the president, delivered just after the 2008 election, could get everyone involved off the hook for good.

By Tim Grieve

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

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