I find this rather amusing...


Liberal lawyer goes to bat for Rove
he burnishes image of 'Bush's Brain' Clinton-era White House staffer calls it perfect pairing

- Richard Leiby, Washington Post
Sunday, December 18, 2005

Washington -- Karl Rove's greatest defender in Washington these days is a Democratic lawyer and onetime newspaper reporter named Robert Luskin. He is Rove's attorney in the high-stakes CIA leak case, and is widely credited with sparing his client from indictment so far.

But perhaps more intriguing is Luskin's other role. He plays the Anti-Rove.

Just look at the guy: Luskin, 55, wears a gold hoop earring and Euro-hip eyeglasses. He's buff and bald. (But bald in a good way.) He rides a black Ducati Monster motorcycle, which its maker touts as the bike of choice of "top designers" and "Hollywood stars." In his office he spins the CDs of anti-war balladeer Steve Earle and ex-Replacements singer Paul Westerberg.

Rove, the pudgy uber-operative also known as "Bush's Brain," helped put a brush-clearing conservative Christian into the White House by bad-mouthing the liberal elites of this world -- people just like Luskin.

So how is it that a man of somewhat Neiman-Marxist tastes, a self-described liberal on social issues, became the potential rescuer of Rove, whom many on the left are salivating to see frog-marched from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

If you have to ask, say observers of the Rove-Luskin alliance, then you obviously haven't been in Washington very long.

"Bob Luskin is the perfect person for Rove," says Lanny Davis, a Clinton White House damage-control veteran and Luskin's former law partner at Patton Boggs, the power firm where Luskin plies his trade. "He is one of the few lawyers I know who gets it."

By that he means Luskin knows how to do the sharp lawyering required to wage a strong criminal defense -- while nudging reporters toward his position, attempting to soften public perception of Rove.

Having worked in Washington for a quarter-century, and spending part of the Clinton years as a scandal attorney, Luskin has seen it all before. "Same plot, different characters," he says of the investigative dramas, such as the Valerie Plame outing case, that periodically grip Washington.

"Many lawyers are media-wise, brain-dead," declares Davis, who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton. "Bob gets how to be a lawyer and communicate effectively. Lawyers cannot operate just by no-commenting anymore."

And so it is that we find ourselves in Luskin's office on the outskirts of Georgetown, listening to him comment. For three hours. It's never dull: There are stories about covering a '60s student revolt at Harvard; his work cleaning up a Mafia-infested labor union; and the time he took heat from the feds for accepting gold bars as a client payment.

For those who've managed to lose the plot since all this began two years ago, we offer some boilerplate: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is probing whether White House officials disclosed the identity of CIA operative Plame to reporters as a way to discredit her husband, Iraq war foe Joseph Wilson. In October, a grand jury indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, for allegedly lying and obstructing justice. Rove, who is known to have talked to Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and syndicated columnist Robert Novak about Plame, was not indicted. But he remains under investigation.

The otherwise voluble Luskin clams up when the topic shifts to the latest development in the case: Time reporter Viveca Novak has agreed to provide sworn testimony about a conversation she had with ... yes ... Luskin. As reported last week by the Washington Post, Novak -- a longtime friend of Luskin's -- is "central to White House senior adviser Karl Rove's effort to fend off an indictment in the 2-year-old investigation,'' according to two people familiar with the situation."

"I can't talk about it on any basis," Luskin says. "Not at all, in any way, shape or form. I'm really sorry."

But otherwise his spin is direct: Fitzgerald will ultimately conclude that "Karl didn't do anything wrong" because Rove has "the virtue of being innocent," says Luskin. Rove did not push disclosure of Plame's identity to reporters, the attorney says, or attempt to cover up his conversations with them.

To the Bush administration's foes, Rove's alleged complicity presents the possibility of divine payback. For some, the notion of the Machiavellian Rove plotting reprisals against Wilson is "the story too good not to be true," Luskin says.

"It is a much better story if he is playing a central role in this, and it is a much less interesting story if it turns out that there is no evidence to suggest, as was initially argued, that this was a White House plot to disclose the identity of a covert agent in order to punish a critic. ...

"If folks believe they can gain political advantage by climbing up his back, they will do so."

Karl Rove, victim of attack politics? Perish the thought! At this point, the room itself is practically spinning.

Robert Luskin grew up in Chicago, the son of a teacher and an attorney who did private labor arbitration. As a youth at the dinner table he acquired a respect for "the dignity of the working man and woman," Luskin says, and friends say he never came off as a snob, despite his accomplishments (Harvard undergrad, Rhodes scholar, Harvard Law Review).

"He spent a lot of time talking to me, and there were people who would not give you the time of day," recalls M.J. Anderson, who met Luskin in 1978 when she was a secretary at the prestigious publication.

He became enamored of journalism as a Harvard freshman. Working at the school radio station, he found himself inside University Hall when 500 cops ended a takeover by protesters in 1969: "I basically did the play-by-play of the bust while it was happening," he says. Luskin and three other student reporters secured a book contract for "The Harvard Strike," which placed the incident into a wider context of radical politics. In the mid-1970s he worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal.

"He really wanted to be a writer but didn't see a way to stay in it and make a living," says Anderson, now an editorial writer at the Providence Journal. "He ended up in law school in spite of himself."

Luskin explains: "I think I was probably getting family pressure that being a journalist was an utterly disreputable profession." He laughs heartily. "But I loved being a reporter ... and still miss it."

That part of his background may redound to Rove's benefit. Journalists tend to like Luskin: He's smooth and personable but not unctuous. He knows fully the art of leak-and-tip, but he also understands what it's like to be on the other side.

"I think the picture is of a very good reporter who turned out to be an ace lawyer, with a sort of humility and charm to boot. That's hard to beat," Harvard law Professor Philip Heymann says. "I could easily imagine his being a friend-making, humanizing force for anybody he is representing. I've never met Rove, but he looks like he could use it."

Luskin's resume includes scandal experience dating back to the Abscam bribery case. He weathered some of the most subpoena-happy Hill investigations of the Clinton years: Whitewater, Vince Foster, campaign fundraising.

Luskin had to do a lot of spinning for himself when the U.S. attorney in Rhode Island accused him of "willful blindness" for accepting 45 gold bars worth more than $505,000, as well as Swiss wire transfers of $169,000, for his work on the case of a precious-metals dealer convicted of laundering millions in drug money. In 1998 Luskin settled with the government, forfeiting $245,000 in fees.

Luskin says he did due diligence to assure that the money he got was legit but now admits, "I kind of got lost in what I thought were the legalities of the situation and didn't take a step back and say, you know, how would people regard something like this?"

Washington is full of capable and loyal Republican white-shoe attorneys whom Rove could have picked. Why Luskin? Rove declined to comment, but he came to Luskin via a referral from Patton Boggs partner Ben Ginsberg, who works on the same floor as Luskin and considers him "wonderfully capable." (Ginsberg was chief outside counsel to President Bush's re-election campaign.)

Rove, according to Luskin, "made it clear that as far as he was concerned, the relevant issue for him was whether or not I had the appropriate experience and not what my politics were."

Some who know Luskin brush off any deeper meaning in Rove's counterintuitive choice. "The important part is the IQ around 200 -- that might be an exaggeration, but it wouldn't shock me if Bob were in Mensa," says W. Kenneth O'Donnell, a Providence attorney who has worked with Luskin. "The guy is brilliant. I can certainly understand why (Rove) would want him to represent him."

Because, sometimes, even Bush's Brain needs a brain.