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Friday, October 07, 2005

In the Hot Seat

According to Murray Waas, today is the day for Rove. Waas has had some great sourcing on the Traitorgate story, so I guess we'll all see when the cameras start clicking away as Bush's Dough Boy and his posse of expensive attorneys make their way up the sidewalk and back from the federal building. There were a flurry of stories, containing lots of "unnamed sources close to the case" or "lawyers speaking on condition of anonymity." (See Jane's summary from last night on the latest NY Times and LA Times takes on the case.)

But the big question remains, why? What would make any witness, let alone Rove, be so desperate to appear under oath before a grand jury considering indictment a fourth time? I mean, honestly, it is an unusual move on the part of a potential defendant. Multiple trips to the witness chair open a Pandora's box of inconsistencies in statements -- both to the grand jury and to investigators from the FBI. As defense counsel, the thing you try to do above all else is limit the times your client opens his mouth.

Why testify now? Because politics is intertwined with all of this mess. It's fitting, really, since it was politics that began the whole mess to begin with -- Amb. Wilson attempted to alert the public that all was not well behind the curtain in the Emerald City, and was attacked by Rove and Company like a pack of winged monkeys, swooping down to exact revenge in the form of political payback.

But in their swift retribution maneuver to staunch the bleeding and silence any more would be critics, the President's cronies missed one very important point: national security, especially at a time of war, is a non-political issue and that you protect at all costs the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe.

When they exposed Valerie Wilson from her NOC list protection, they also exposed all of her fellow agents working under Brewster-Jennings and Co. cover, they wasted the millions of taxpayer dollars needed to set up that sort of cover company, and they exposed every single field asset who may have been working with these agents. All of this at a time when we were at war with terrorists who were trying to get their hands on the very WMDs that these agents and assets were working to eliminate. Sounds like treasonous behavior to me.

And now, it is Rove scrambling to save his hide, because in politics a public taint from an indictment can spell ruin. You can't get good work as a political strategist when every time you appear in a photo with your candidate, the caption reads "Convicted felon Karl Rove and Joe Blow politician."

No matter the spin in all of the articles overnight and this morning, the bottom line is that Karl is in trouble. And they know it. This is a move designed to go over Fitzgerald's head directly to the Grand Jurors themselves -- a strategy Rove has employed over and over with the President to end-run the media. But it carries a LOT of risk -- Karl will be sitting in the witness chair with the entire grand jury watching his every move, his every bead of sweat, his every little slip of the tongue...and Fitz will be right there to follow-up on every single one of them.

It occurred to me this morning during my ultra-super-nutritious breakfast of a chocolate covered Krispy Kreme (or Krispy Krack, as I like to call them) and coffee, that a little detail on just what happens when someone testifies to a grand jury would be helpful to everyone. So, here goes:

The witness enters the room and is asked to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. The witness is then seated in the chair provided for testimony, and questioning begins. You usually start with introductions, if the witness is new to the jury, but since Karl will be there for the fourth time, that won't be necessary. (snark intended)

As a prosecutor, you prepare, endlessly really, for this sort of thing, writing out potential questions on legal pad after legal pad, outlining and timelining the evidence that you have, putting together a story board of sorts on who has said what so that you can get to the heart of any big discrepencies. The way Fitz runs his investigative grand juries, according to every report that I have read, is a more interactive way -- allowing lots of questions from the jurors as well as his own questions. And then Fitz will be able to follow-up on any testimony that doesn't square with what he already knows, asking question after question if necessary. Honestly, you prepare all these questions in advance, and you hit a lot of them -- but there is always a moment when a witness veers off on a tangent, and it is the tangents that can prove the most useful.

Defense counsel is not present during testimony, so Rove will be on his own unless he stops the proceedings and asks to consult with his attorney outside the courtroom before answering a question. This is common, but it always leaves the jury feeling ever-so-slightly uneasy as they wait for the legally parsed answer that inevitably comes after this sort of consult. Depending on the number of issues that need to be addressed, testimony and questions can last for a few minutes or for days. And I do mean days. It all depends on whether Fitz and the jury crack into the heart of the case --and how forthcoming or not each witness is willing to be.

What this does is it gives the jury one last opportunity to test Rove on his factual representations -- and I think Waas and others are absolutely right in saying that Rove's offer to testify initially coming in July coincides exactly with Cooper's testimony in mid-July, and likely means that there were discrepencies between Rove's testimony or statements to the FBI and what Cooper is reported to have said to the jury. Rove likely wants to clean that up. And quick.

Does this mean if Rove re-casts his testimony, that there will be no charges? ("I didn't mean I never spoke with Matt Cooper at all. What I said was, I did not speak to him about Valerie Plame. I said Wilson's wife." You know, the sort of hairsplitting that Republicans were all over with Bill Clinton during the whole Monica thing.) Not necessarily.

It can mean several things, but I think David Corn has an excellent summary on this today on his blog, where he says that Rove is either trying to spin the "what the meaning of is is" sort of testimony, looking to cut a deal, or that Rove is aware that someone flipped on his ass and he's trying to spin things back his way. I would add that perhaps Rove just thinks his big brain will allow him to outsmart Fitz and use his powers of appealing persuasion to just knock the socks off the jury and get them to refuse to indict anyone. (And before you laugh, Chuck Robb did just that in some testimony on a wiretapping investigation a few years back, so it is possible, if not highly improbable.)

What is Fitz after? Well, only he and his staff know for sure, but a good bet is that he wouldn't be going through the trouble of bringing Rove and all his best pals back onto the hot seat for a friendly little coffee klatch. Nope, I think Fitz is looking at something big -- and Rove is betting the farm on his winning personality and persuasive skills. For the record, my money is on Fitz.

NOTE: Jane will be appearing on MSNBC today at 12:45 ET. It is some must see TV, so set your Tivo accordingly. She'll be talking popcorn storage, the LA blogosphere and why Traitorgate is so important. Should be fun!

UPDATE: The Note is saying that Rove will not be testifying today. (Hat tip to Crazy Barrone for letting me know. Thanks.)

"The grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's name in 2003 meets at 11:00 am ET at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, but Karl Rove is not expected to testify today."

Seems the ABC reporter Jonathon Karl got Luskin on the phone, and he said Rove wouldn't be in today. The Note also contains this tidbit gleaned from Karl's reporting:

"He says Fitzgerald has sent no target letter or indicated in any way that Rove is a "target.""

That's a bit of a difference from the carefully parsed "hasn't sent a letter to Rove" that we were hearing yesterday. This is developing, so more will be posted as I get details.

UPDATE #2: The NY Times has updated its story again to add this little nugget:

"Meanwhile, Mr. Fitzgerald has indicated that he is not entirely finished with Judith Miller, the reporter for The New York Times who recently testified before the grand jury after serving 85 days in jail. According to a lawyer familiar with the case, Mr. Fitzgerald has asked Ms. Miller to meet him next Tuesday to further discuss her conversations with I. Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff."

Wonder if Rove was held off on testifying until Fitz had some more time to put the thumb screws on Judy? Or vice versa? Either way, things are red hot -- and the deals that may or may not be cut over the holiday weekend will be a lot better than anything indictees will see after the grand jury starts sending out the paperwork.

And a note to the folks at CNN and Bob Franken: you almost gave me a heart attack when you just said that "Prosecutors were looking at Vice President Dick Cheney........'s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby." That pause was pregnant enough that I almost started my happy dance.

Personal note here as well -- my toddler has a horrible cold, and we have spent the morning playing "snot monster running away with mommy and her kleenex." Sorry I haven't been around to answers questions as much, but mommy duties come first. It's naptime, so I'm trying to do a news round-up and comments update now.

UPDATE #3: Bob Barr, former Republican Congressman from Georgia and wingnut, who also has US Attorney credentials on his resume, just said on CNN that he thinks Rove testifying for a fourth time is really unusual and that the facts as he reads them in all of the leaks, news stories, and such are pointing to possible obstruction and perhaps perjury charges. You know things are looking bad for Karl Rove if Bob Barr is willing to speculate out loud about possible indictment charges. Ouch!

UPDATE #4: The NY Daily News has an article up on the Rove grand jury speculation and Traitorgate that contains a couple of very interesting nuggets. One gem comes from a "former CIA official familiar with the investigation" (Tenet, anyone?):

"there are contradictions in the testimony of Rove and Vice President Cheney's top aide, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, two of the administration's heaviest hitters."

Hmmmm...isn't that interesting? Wonder if Judy corroborated Scooter's story, Rove's story or neither? Guess that is why Fitz wants everyone back in for another go at questions. There is a series of bits given by a "close friend of Rove's" on background, all trying to minimize the significance of Rove's fourth appearance and potential criminal jeopardy. And then this little lovely bit:

""It would cause me great concern if my client, at the end of an investigation, got called in a fourth time to testify," said Solomon Wisenberg, a former deputy to independent counsel Ken Starr. "It sounds like Rove may be closer to being indicted. There's no way somebody in Rove's position would go in a fourth time unless he was trying to save his own professional skin," he added."

First, Bob Barr on CNN. Then a Ken Starr acolyte? Man, the rats sure are jumpy, aren't they. Finally, this little descriptive nugget amused me.: "At the White House, staffers weren't talking. But one well-placed source described the mood as a "normal high level of paranoia."" Doesn't sound like a group of people who are having a very good week, now does it?