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The indictment that wasn’t

By
May 30, 2006

It has been 18 days since a liberal web site reported Karl Rove had been indicted and given 24 hours to get his affairs in order.

On May 13, controversial journalist Jason Leopold reported on Truthout:

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spent more than half a day Friday at the offices of Patton Boggs, the law firm representing Karl Rove.

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 business hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

The news spread through the liberal blogosphere like locusts. Journalists from major news organizations called sources but not one could confirm Leopold’s story, which originally said Rove had just "24 hours" but was later amended to "24 business hours." Several of the people that Leopold claimed were present for the 12-hour-plus meeting denied any such meeting took place.

Truthout stood behind the story for a few days, then executive director Marc Ash, issued what he called a "partial apology" to readers for "getting ahead of the news cycle." That, so some, sounded like anothre way of saying "we speculated, gambled, and lost."

A number of journalists and bloggers questioned Leopold’s story, including Tim Grieve at Salon:

It has now been almost two weeks since Truthout and Jason Leopold reported that Karl Rove had been indicted and given 24 hours to get his affairs in order. We still haven’t seen any sign of that indictment, nor has anyone in the mainstream media been able to confirm the story.

What should we read into that? Well, we’d submit that this is instructive. The National Journal’s Murray Waas reported Thursday that just as the Plamegate investigation was beginning in 2003, Robert Novak called Rove to tell him that he would protect his identity as a source and to assure him that he wouldn’t find himself in trouble for leaking. And less than 24 hours later, at least two mainstream media outlets have found sources willing to confirm the story. MSNBC says it has confirmation of Waas’ story from "sources close" to Rove, while Bloomberg says it has confirmed the story with "a person familiar with the matter."

If two different news organizations can, within a matter of hours, track down confirmation of a story about a telephone call between two men nearly three years ago, how is it that dozens of reporters following the Plame case can’t confirm a story that purportedly involved television news crews, Secret Service agents and the locking down of an entire floor of a major Washington law firm just this month?

Good question. Ash still maintains that the events described in Leopold’s story took place and Truthout published another story by Leopold (about connections between George W. Bush and convicted former Enron CEO Ken Lay) on Monday. That story, however, is largely a rehash of material published before about ties between the White House and Lay.

But how is it that a reporter who admits a long history of mental and drug problems, confesses to stealing from former bosses and fired for suspicion of fabricating source material and stealing copy from antoher publication can scoop all the veteran investigative reporters working in and around Washington? The bottom line is that he probably did not and his story is either wrong or fabricated or both.

Here’s what our editor Bill McTavish discovered and wrote about in Monday’s Blue:

Contrary to some published reports, Presidential advisor Karl Rove was not indicted two weeks ago by the federal grand jury investigating the leak of a covert CIA operative’s name but he remains a focus of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, sources close to the investigation say.

"No indictment, sealed or otherwise, has yet been issued against Mr. Rove," says an investigator working on the case. "But," he adds, "that doesn’t mean one isn’t in the works if Fitz (special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) can make his case."

Reporters for major news organizations have worked for the past two weeks trying to confirm existence of an indictment but have come up empty.

"That’s no surprise," says a Justice Department source that has proven reliable in the past. "You can’t find an indictment that doesn’t exist."

But multiple sources say Rove remains a central figure in Fitzgerald’s investigation and could still be indicted. Some suggest the prosecutor is using the threat of an indictment to force to testify against former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who has been indicted, and others, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

Fitzgerald is also focusing on reported collusion between Rove and right-wing columnist Robert Novak, the reporter who first used covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name in print.

A couple of weeks ago, we were inclined to give Leopold and Truthout the benefit of the doubt but after 18 days and more than 80 "business hours," it is time to realize that the report of an indictment against Rove was probably just wishful thinking and the Truthout is out of truth on this one.