No Comment — February 22, 2008, 9:37 pm

Rove and Siegelman

In the flurry of pieces running about the pending 60 Minutes exposé on Karl Rove’s involvement in the political prosecution of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, one passage in the AP story by Ben Evans really stuck out. It was Karl Rove’s response. And it was a flat-out lie. It showed up last night, and I assumed by now, it would be corrected, but it seems that Rove decided to stick with his lie. Rove does not speak directly, but through his attorney, Robert Luskin, who most recently steered Rove through the shoals of Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation. As you will recall, Karl Rove’s varying versions of the facts in different grand jury proceedings put him in considerable jeopardy.

Simpson testified to congressional investigators last year that she overheard conversations among Republicans in 2002 indicating that Rove was involved in the Justice Department’s prosecution of Siegelman. She has never before said that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity in spite of testifying to congressional lawyers last year, submitting a sworn affidavit and speaking extensively with reporters.

Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, denied the allegation.

“Mr. Rove never made such a request to her or anyone else,” Luskin said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Had ’60 Minutes’ taken the trouble to contact Mr. Rove before circulating this falsehood, he would have told them the same thing.”

There is a big inaccuracy in this reporting. First Ben Evans writes: “She has never before said that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity in spite of testifying to congressional lawyers last year, submitting a sworn affidavit and speaking extensively with reporters.” Evans is dead wrong on this. If he had written “It has not previously been reported that she said that Rove…” he would be fine. I interviewed Simpson in July and she recounted this to me; and I believe she recounted it to two other reporters as well, one with another major national publication, but I’ll let them speak for themselves. She requested that I not write it up or report it without her prior okay, and I abided by her request. My understanding is that she also gave this information to congressional investigators when they initially interviewed her. So Evans is incorrect. Or, more to the point, he assumes in his writing more than he could possibly know.

But second, Robert Luskin states that CBS never spoke to Rove directly about this.

Now let’s look at the CBS’s teaser on the piece. It addresses this question:

Rove would not speak to 60 Minutes, but elsewhere has denied being involved in efforts to discredit Siegelman.

So it suggests that Rove was contacted and refused to speak.

Well, Luskin’s statement is wrong. And the CBS statement is true only in the way that a butler announces to an unwanted caller that “Madam is not at home” is true: it’s a formulation that covers a different set of facts which those in the news business understand. In fact, Rove was contacted by CBS and did speak with CBS about the allegations. Rove insisted that his comments could not be used in any way without his prior permission.

I have no idea what Rove said in that discussion, but I do know that the discussion occurred.

So I’m wondering: did Rove mislead his lawyer about what happened? As we enter the coverage of the Siegelman story with the CBS exposé, much will turn on Rove’s truthfulness. And he has started the process with a predictable pattern: he lies when he thinks he can get away with it, or even better, he has others lie in his stead.

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