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Steel Cage Death Match: VandeHei vs. Shuster


I was on our good friend Colin McEnroe’s radio show today and they asked me the dreaded question:  what does Viveca Novak have to do with Karl Rove’s situation?

I tried to make it as simple as possible, which is not simple at all, and you could feel the radio dials switching over to Golden Oldies.  So I’m going to try again here to make it simple and comprehensible. 

There are basically two competing and I would say mutually exclusive theories about the role Viveca Novak plays in Karl Rove’s defense.  They are rooted in the initial reporting on the whole affair, done in the days following our scoop (never credited but confirmed three days later by the New York Times) that she had spilled the beans to Rove’s attorney, her good friend Robert Luskin, that his client had been Matt Cooper’s source.  My guess is that Rove and Luskin feel it is in their interest to keep the waters muddied by fueling both of these theories, hence the largely incomprehensible mess that exists in the press.

The Shuster Theory

Goes something like this:  In the days leading up to Libby’s indictment, Patrick Fitzgerald expressed extreme skepticism about Karl Rove’s series of explanations due to the fact that Rove could never provide an adequate excuse for why the Hadley email was not produced in response to the January 2004 subpoenas until October of 2004.  Robert Luskin goes to Fitzgerald and says, in essence, "aha!  I’ll tell you why.  I was having cocktails with my good friend Viveca Novak of Time Magazine in May of 2004 and she told me that everyone at Time knew that my client was Matt Cooper’s source.  I went to my client who was shocked, shocked I tell you to hear this because he had no recollection of talking to Matt Cooper.  This sent me on a search through Karl’s emails, and voila!   The Hadley email.  Karl then goes before the Grand Jury once again in October, his memory has been restored and it all makes perfect sense."

So Fitzgerald tells Time Magazine he wants to have a little chat with Viveca about conversations she had with Luskin starting in May 2004.  Except when Viveca testifies, she thinks it’s quite probably March or earlier that the conversations with Luskin took place. According to Shuster, Fitzgerald continues to be quite troubled by the seven month delay between the time Luskin was evidently tipped off by Viveca and the time Karl had his memory restored.

The VandeHei Theory

In VandeHei’s reporting, the alibi provided by Viveca Novak is altered dramatically.  Once again, in order to stave off indictment, Robert Luskin walks in to Patrick Fitzgerald’s office and says "have I got an excuse for you."  His client Karl Rove first testified before the grand jury in February, 2004, at which time he did not indicate he’d ever had a conversation with Matt Cooper.  Nonetheless, he would not offer Cooper a waiver of confidentiality.  Cooper quite nearly went to jail and it was only after the judge held him in contempt of court and Time Magazine agreed to turn over Cooper’s notes that Rover’s memory was restored to him.  Bless be.

In the VandeHei theory, Luskin tells Fitzgerald he was knocking back highballs with Viveca Novak in January of 2004 when Viveca spills the beans.  Luskin gets a hold of himself, recovers from his shock and tells his client that people at Time Magazine think he was Matt Cooper’s source.  Rove says "nonsense," goes before the grand jury and claims no knowledge of ever talking with Matt Cooper — exactly what he had told the FBI in October of 2003.  Luskin says to Fitzgerald, "see?  He didn’t change his story just because he knew Cooper was going to talk — he’d heard that story before and STILL went in and told the grand jury he’d never spoken with Cooper."  Or something.

Only same problem — Viveca Novak testifies that she thinks she told Luskin in March or so,  and quite possibly after Rove had already testified.  Oops. 

Two Theories

Now I myself have always given more credibility to the Shuster theory because if Luskin walked into Fitzgerald’s office claiming that he had talked to Viveca Novak in January of that year, why did Fitzgerald issue subpoenas for conversations starting in May?  He’s a rather meticulous fellow who has done a very good job of limiting the scope of his inquiry to exactly the parameters he thinks he needs to explore. Pourquoi?

My guess has always been that the VandeHei theory was a second attempt at spin.  Once Viveca Novak’s recollections did not match up with Luskin’s and did not support the tight timeline Luskin was trying to sketch between the tipoff and the discovery of the Hadley email I have always thought it possible that they floated a second cover story to try and accommodate the earlier meeting, although it’s always sounded like patent bullshit to me.  But you can still see the two theories cropping up in the reporting of each reporter today:


Robert Luskin spoke of a conversation with Time reporter Viveca Novak and a tip about what her colleague Matt Cooper might testify to.  Luskin and Rove then searched for White House information to refresh Rove’s memory and found a white house email about the Rove-Cooper conversation.  Then, according to Luskin, Rove changed his testimony.

The problem is that the time lapse from the Novak tip to the new Rove testimony…was 7 months.   


All the while, Fitzgerald suspected that Rove was acknowledging what had happened only because new evidence was surfacing, according to lawyers in the case. But Rove and his lawyer have presented an alternative explanation: that Rove genuinely did not remember his conversation with Cooper, and testified to that effect even though he was aware of rumors that he was one of Cooper’s sources.


Luskin told the prosecutor that Viveca Novak had informed him that she had heard from other Time reporters that Rove was Cooper’s source for a July 2003 story on Plame. Luskin shared this information with Rove — before Rove testified that he did not recall his conversation with Cooper.

Yesterday, Rove told the grand jury that it would make no sense for him to lie in February, knowing that all of this would soon be public, the source said.

Notice that Robert Luskin seems to be the source for both of these stories.   

(graphic by Monk from Inflatable Dartboard

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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