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 Café 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 Café 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."