Novak’s Call to Rove: Bad Idea, or Bad Advice?

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Here are a couple good questions for Robert Novak: How good is your legal advice? And how good are you at following it?

I raise these in light of the following paragraph from Novak’s recent tell-all (or, tell-some) explainer column in Human Events Online:

The news broke Sept. 26, 2003, that the Justice Department was investigating the CIA leak case. I contacted my longtime attorney, Lester Hyman, who brought his partner at Swidler Berlin, James Hamilton, into the case. Hamilton urged me not to comment publicly on the case, and I have followed that advice for the most part.

Three days later, Novak called Rove, according to the Murray Waas story that Novak has tried hard (and in vain) to discredit.

Now, that just seems odd. Hamilton, Novak’s big-gun criminal defense lawyer, was a counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in the 1970s, and was a special prosecutor for an investigation into Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, among other important assignments. Surely he knows the rules of the investigation game.One of those rules, as Waas noted in his May 25 piece, is that once an investigation has begun, potential witnesses should not communicate:

Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who has represented numerous clients in several special-prosecutor investigations, said in an interview: “It is the better part of wisdom and standing instruction that witnesses to an investigation do not talk to other witnesses about the case when the case is still pending. It raises the inference that they are comparing each other’s recollections and altering or shaping each other’s testimony.”

Brand has advised his clients not to talk to other witnesses in federal criminal investigations, he said, because there is a “thin line between refreshing each other’s recollections … and suborning someone to lie under oath.”

Now, it’s not crystal clear from Novak’s column that he signed up Hamilton the day the news broke. It’s possible, though unlikely, that despite finding himself at the center of a major investigation, Novak waited several days before seeking legal advice. But that’s hard to believe.

However, the alternatives are equally implausible: That either Hamilton told Novak not to talk to the press about the case, but didn’t bother to toss in couple words about staying away from others who may be called to testify; or, that Novak simply chose to ignore that advice. Which is it?

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