Viveca Novak's testimony: What does it mean for Karl Rove?

Rove's lawyer says his conversation with the Time reporter sent him looking for evidence. Why did it take so long to find it?

Published December 12, 2005 3:05PM (EST)

Viveca Novak's first-person account of her role in the Valerie Plame case raises some pretty serious questions about the Time reporter's judgment. What it means for Karl Rove is a little harder to say -- in part because Novak's memory is vague on what may be the most important point.

Novak says she met occasionally for a drink with Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, but she can't remember which evening at Cafe Deluxe was the one during which she alerted Luskin to the fact that Rove was a source for Matthew Cooper. Novak initially thought it may have been in May 2004. Then, after Patrick Fitzgerald pointed her toward some additional dates on which she might have met with Luskin, she told him that it was possible her leak may have come in March 2004. Novak says she's "mortified" by how little she remembers about what things happened.

Either way, it's hard to accept the pro-Rove spin on what happened next. Rove didn't acknowledge that he'd leaked Plame's identity to Cooper when he was interviewed by the FBI in October 2003, nor did he acknowledge it when he first appeared before the grand jury in February 2004. Luskin apparently claims that his conversation with Novak -- whenever it was -- led him to search for evidence of a Rove-Cooper chat. "That's how Luskin says he found the e-mail Rove wrote to Stephen Hadley at the National Security Council right after his conversation with Matt, saying that Matt had called about welfare reform but then switched to the subject of Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium yellowcake in Niger," Novak writes. "According to Luskin, he turned the e-mail over to Fitzgerald when he found it, leading Rove to acknowledge before the grand jury in October 2004 that he had indeed spoken with Cooper."

Which all makes perfectly good sense if you leap right over a number of rather uncomfortable questions. Why didn't Rove remember the conversation in the first place? Why wasn't the Rove-Hadley e-mail discovered -- or, if it was, why wasn't it produced -- when the Justice Department first asked for documents about the Plame case in the fall of 2003? Why wasn't the Rove-Hadley e-mail discovered -- or, if it was, why wasn't it produced -- when Fitzgerald specifically requested documents related to Matthew Cooper in January 2004? If Luskin went looking for such evidence after hearing from Novak in March or May of 2004, why did it take seven months -- or even five months -- for the White House to find the e-mail and for Rove to come clean? And why didn't Rove fess up until October 2004? Could that have anything to do with trying to put off the inevitable until after the November election? Or could it have something to do with the fact that Cooper was first held in contempt -- and threatened with jail time -- just two days before Rove testified?

Maybe Fitzgerald is finding perfectly plausible explanations for all of these questions. But maybe, as he weighs the fate of Karl Rove, he's thinking the same way we are: There are a lot of things that don't quite add up here, and Novak's long silence -- coupled with apparent contradictions between her story and Luskin's -- doesn't make the math come out any cleaner.

By Tim Grieve

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

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