When Karl Rove emerged after four grueling hours before a federal grand jury in Washington last Friday, his lawyer Robert Luskin made one more attempt to figure out just where his client stood. He approached special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald outside the hearing room and asked if Rove's fortunes had changed in the two-year-old inquiry of who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. But Fitzgerald, ever tight-lipped, wasn't giving anything up. He curtly told the lawyer that "no decisions" had been made, Luskin says.
That left Luskin, the brainy battle-tested Washington litigator hired to represent the most powerful of the president's men, in a bind. All over Washington, impatient reporters were waiting to be fed. So Luskin--whose shaved head, gold earring and Ducati Monster motorcycle make him something of an odd duck among Washington's A-list attorneys--did what any savvy trial lawyer would do: he tried to spin Fitzgerald's nonanswer to Rove's advantage. In a carefully worded statement, Luskin said, "The special prosecutor has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation." The part he glided over: Fitzgerald hadn't ruled out indicting Rove, either.
It was Rove's fourth appearance before the grand jury, and will almost certainly be his last. The investigation expires at the end of the month, and Fitzgerald is widely expected to announce his decisions in the next two weeks. Republicans fear that Fitzgerald may end up charging a number of senior White House aides, possibly including Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, with disclosing classified information or making false statements. (Rove and Libby deny any wrongdoing.)
On its Web site on Saturday, The New York Times published a long-awaited story detailing Libby's murky relationship with Judith Miller, the Times reporter who at first refused to disclose her secret source in the case, but named Libby after serving 85 days in jail for contempt of court. It was the latest twist in a story that has had more than its share of odd turns. At times, Luskin himself has seemed to add to the confusion. In July, Luskin flatly stated that Rove had not been the secret source who talked to Time magazine's Matthew Cooper. Soon after, NEWSWEEK revealed an internal Time e-mail showing that Rove was indeed Cooper's source. Luskin's response: that there was "absolutely no inconsistency" with Rove's testimony.
A Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar who vacations on Martha's Vineyard, Luskin appears the antithesis of Rove and the Bush culture. After working as a Justice Department prosecutor and (briefly) as a speechwriter for Geraldine Ferraro, he's spent much of his career as a white-collar defense lawyer specializing in high-profile political investigations. He represented several Clinton administration officials caught up in White House scandals. "He was the go-to person in the Clinton White House," says Lanny Davis, a Luskin friend and former Clinton adviser.
In 1997, Luskin ran afoul of the Feds when one of his clients, a precious-metals dealer convicted of money laundering for Colombian drug cartels, paid his fees in gold bars worth $505,000. When the Feds moved in to seize the gold, Luskin struck a deal to turn over a portion of the proceeds. He says his conduct was proper, but admits now that he should have known better. "I was completely obtuse about the optics of the situation," he says.
But when Rove went shopping for a lawyer, Ben Ginsburg, a top Republican lawyer, recommended Luskin, who is one of his partners at the powerhouse firm of Patton Boggs. At their first meeting, Luskin told Rove about his Democratic pedigree. Rove didn't seem to care. "He made it clear that the most important thing is relevant experience, not politics," Luskin says. For Rove, a man who sees everything in political terms, that may have been the ultimate compliment.