"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

What Viveca Novak Told Fitzgerald
December 11, 2005

It was in the midst of another Washington scandal, almost a decade ago, that I got to know Bob Luskin. He represented Mark Middleton, a minor figure in the Democratic campaign-finance scandals of 1996. Luskin kept Middleton out of the spotlight and never told me much. Still, there is the occasional source with whom one becomes friendly, and eventually Luskin was in that group.

We'd occasionally meet for a drink--he didn't like having lunch--at Cafe Deluxe on Wisconsin Avenue, near the National Cathedral and on my route home. In October 2003, as we each made our way through a glass of wine, he asked me what I was working on. I told him I was trying to get a handle on the Valerie Plame leak investigation. "Well," he said, "you're sitting next to Karl Rove's lawyer." I was genuinely surprised, since Luskin's liberal sympathies were no secret, and here he was representing the man known to many Democrats as the other side's Evil Genius. I began spending a little more time than usual with Luskin as I tried to keep track of the investigation. But how it all bought me a ticket to testify under oath to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald still floors me.

The week of Oct. 24, 2005, was Indictment Week--that Friday, the grand jury's term would expire, and it was expected that Fitzgerald would finish up his probe by then so he wouldn't have to start working with a new grand jury. It seemed clear that Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was in deep trouble, but Rove's status was uncertain. Sometime during that week, Luskin, who was talking at length with Fitzgerald, phoned me and said he had disclosed to Fitzgerald the content of a conversation he and I had had at Cafe Deluxe more than a year earlier and that Fitzgerald might want to talk to me.

Luskin clearly thought that was going to help Rove, perhaps by explaining why Rove hadn't told Fitzgerald or the grand jury of his conversation with my colleague Matt Cooper about former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife until well into the inquiry. I knew what Matt had been through--the unwanted celebrity, the speculation unrelated to fact, the dissection of his life and career. I didn't face the prospect of prison, since Luskin clearly wanted me to tell Fitzgerald about the incident and thus Luskin was not a source I had to protect, but no journalist wants to be part of the story. I clung to Luskin's word might, but the next week he told me Fitzgerald did indeed want to talk to me, but informally, not under oath. I hired a lawyer, Hank Schuelke, but I didn't tell anyone at TIME. Unrealistically, I hoped this would turn out to be an insignificant twist in the investigation and also figured that if people at TIME knew about it, it would be difficult to contain the information, and reporters would pounce on it--as I would have. Fitzgerald and I met in my lawyer's office on Nov. 10 for about two hours. Schuelke had told him I would discuss only my interactions with Luskin that were relevant to the conversation in question. No fishing expeditions, no questions about my other reporting or sources in the case. He agreed, telling my lawyer that he wanted to "remove the chicken bone without disturbing the body."

He asked how often Luskin and I met during the period from fall 2003 to fall 2004 (about five times), when, where and so forth. I had calendar entries that helped but weren't entirely reliable. Did I take notes at those meetings? No. Luskin was more likely to speak freely if he didn't see me committing his words to paper. Did Luskin ever talk to me about whether Rove was a source for Matt on the subject of Wilson's wife?

That was the "chicken bone" Fitzgerald had referred to, the conversation Luskin had told him about that got me dragged into the probe. Here's what happened. Toward the end of one of our meetings, I remember Luskin looking at me and saying something to the effect of "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt." I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, "Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around TIME." He looked surprised and very serious. "There's nothing in the phone logs," he said. In the course of the investigation, the logs of all Rove's calls around the July 2003 time period--when two stories, including Matt's, were published mentioning that Plame was Wilson's wife--had been combed, and Luskin was telling me there were no references to Matt. (Cooper called via the White House switchboard, which may be why there is no record.)

I was taken aback that he seemed so surprised. I had been pushing back against what I thought was his attempt to lead me astray. I hadn't believed that I was disclosing anything he didn't already know. Maybe this was a feint. Maybe his client was lying to him. But at any rate, I immediately felt uncomfortable. I hadn't intended to tip Luskin off to anything. I was supposed to be the information gatherer. It's true that reporters and sources often trade information, but that's not what this was about. If I could have a do-over, I would have kept my mouth shut; since I didn't, I wish I had told my bureau chief about the exchange. Luskin walked me to my car and said something like, "Thank you. This is important." Fitzgerald wanted to know when this conversation occurred. At that point I had found calendar entries showing that Luskin and I had met in January and in May. Since I couldn't remember exactly how the conversation had developed, I wasn't sure. I guessed it was more likely May.

As my meeting with Fitzgerald wrapped up, I asked what would happen next. He said he would consider whether he needed to interview me again under oath, but that if he did, he wouldn't require me to appear before the grand jury. I hoped that would be the end of it. But on Friday, Nov. 18--when I was on deadline, writing, ironically, about Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's newly discovered role in the investigation--my lawyer called and told me Fitzgerald did indeed want me under oath. I realized that I now needed to share this information with Jay Carney, our Washington bureau chief. On Sunday, Nov. 20, I drove over to his house to tell him. He then called Jim Kelly, the managing editor. Nobody was happy about it, least of all me.

A new meeting with Fitzgerald was arranged for Dec. 8. Leaks about my role began appearing in the papers, some of them closer to the mark than others. They all made me feel physically ill. Fitzgerald had asked that I check a couple of dates in my calendar for meetings with Luskin. One of them, March 1, 2004, checked out. I hadn't found that one in my first search because I had erroneously entered it as occurring at 5 a.m., not 5 p.m.

When Fitzgerald and I met last Thursday, along with another lawyer from his team, my attorney, a lawyer from Time Inc. and the court reporter, he was more focused. The problem with the new March date was that now I was even more confused--previously I had to try to remember if the key conversation had occurred in January or May, and I thought it was more likely May. But March was close enough to May that I really didn't know. "I don't remember" is an answer that prosecutors are used to hearing, but I was mortified about how little I could recall of what occurred when.

This meeting lasted about an hour and a half. As before, Fitzgerald was extremely pleasant, very professional, and he stuck to his pledge not to wander with his questions. Does what I remembered--or more often, didn't remember--of my interactions with Luskin matter? Will it make the difference between whether Rove gets indicted or not? I have no idea. I didn't find out until this fall that, according to Luskin, my remark led him to do an intensive search for evidence that Rove and Matt had talked. 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. 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.

One final note: Luskin is unhappy that I decided to write about our conversation, but I feel that he violated any understanding to keep our talk confidential by unilaterally going to Fitzgerald and telling him what was said. And, of course, anyone who testifies under oath for a grand jury (my sworn statement will be presented to the grand jury by Fitzgerald) is free to discuss that testimony afterward.

Editor's Note: By mutual agreement, Viveca Novak is currently on a leave of absence.

From the Dec. 19, 2005 issue of TIME magazine

This story further demonstrations the symbiotic (and corrupt) relationship between reporters and 'sources.' A reporter SHOULD not be having coffee with someone who's she is or may be writing a report about. In fact, reporters should avoid all social functions that involve government officials. Viveca Novak is on a leave of absence. She should be fired for not revealing what she knew to her editor. Try to imagine the legal cost Time and others are forced to absorb because their reporters are corrupt.