Lawyer: Rove is off the hook in Plamegate

Robert Luskin says Patrick Fitzgerald has told him he does not "anticipate" filing criminal charges.

Published June 13, 2006 12:34PM (EDT)

And just like that, it appears to be over.

Patrick Fitzgerald has told Karl Rove that he does not expect to seek criminal charges against him as part of his investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame, Rove lawyer Robert Luskin said in a statement released early this morning.

In the statement, Luskin said that Fitzgerald "has formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove. "In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation," Luskin continued. "We believe that the special counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."

Well, not exactly. There's been plenty of speculation about the consequences of Rove's conduct -- much of which may well have been baseless -- but there's been little need for anyone to speculate about the conduct itself. Rove leaked Plame's identity to Robert Novak and to Time's Matthew Cooper, and he failed to mention his conversation with Cooper in initial interviews with federal investigators and an initial appearance before the grand jury.

Rove returned to the grand jury several times in an apparent effort to explain away why he failed to tell investigators and prosecutors about the Cooper leak. Because Fitzgerald hasn't yet been available for comment -- and he probably won't say much once he is -- it's not clear yet whether Rove's explanations, an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, Fitzgerald's own assessment of the strength of his evidence or something else entirely drove the special counsel's decision to give the "all clear" notice to Rove Monday.

"We've always said [Rove] did everything he could to cooperate," Luskin told the Washington Post in a short telephone interview this morning. "At the end of the day, [Fitzgerald] made a determination on the evidence."

Whatever the reason for Fitzgerald's decision, it represents a victory for a White House that needs a lot of things right now, another high-profile criminal charge not being among them. Although Luskin's statement did not close the door entirely on the possibility of prosecution -- there's a difference between "does not anticipate" and "won't" -- Rove spokesman Mark Corallo tells the Associated Press: "We're done."

Does this mean that the Bush administration will now come clean about what the president and the vice president knew about Plame's outing or why Scott McClellan denied so unequivocally that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were involved in it? Don't count on it; with Libby's case still on track for trial, the "ongoing investigation" excuse probably has some more mileage in it.

And what about Rove's future at the White House? With Ken Mehlman and his ilk doing victory laps this morning, Rove's job seems more secure than ever before -- despite the promise the president once made to fire anyone who was involved in Plame's outing. Rove "doesn't belong in the White House," Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told NBC this morning. "If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago. So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it's not very good news for America."

By Tim Grieve

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

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