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A former newspaper reporter with an affinity for journalists and strong ties to liberal politics may seem like the last person Karl Rove would want as his attorney. But Patton Boggs partner Robert Luskin may have just the right combination of pluck and smarts to pull the top White House advisor out of a legal morass. At 55, Luskin said his job of representing Rove is like many others he has handled during his 25-year career in Washington, where he has often assumed the role of the protector. “I have this strong urge to throw myself in between people who are kind of vulnerable and folks who are bullies,” said Luskin, who sports an earring in court and often rides a motorcycle to work. And while opinions differ on who is the bully and who is the victim in the ongoing investigation about the press leak of a CIA operative’s name, it is clear that Luskin enjoys playing the paladin. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he has worked both sides of several high-profile criminal cases. As special counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice in the early 1980s, he helped supervise an investigation that led to the bribery conviction of one senator and five members of the House of Representatives in the so-called Abscam scandal. He also wrote speeches for Geraldine Ferraro during her bid for vice president in the 1984 presidential campaign. George H.W. Bush won the job instead. Luskin later represented former Clinton aide Mark Middleton, a White House staffer who eventually escaped charges related to the Clintons’ alleged campaign finance wrongdoing. In 1997, he began serving as in-house prosecutor for the Laborers’ International Union of North America to clean up the organization that the U.S. Department of Justice claimed was rife with corruption. Conservatives groused that allowing Luskin to be the mop-up man was a weak alternative to having the DOJ prosecute the union’s problems. Luskin, however, views the job as a career highlight that has served as a model for union reform. “We sailed through incredibly rocky seas,” he said. Luskin himself ran into problems in 1997 when he had to turn over about $250,000 in legal fees that he received for representing a precious-metals dealer convicted of money laundering. The Justice Department argued that the fees-paid to Luskin in the form of gold bars-were tainted assets. “I believed I had done everything right and nothing wrong,” Luskin said. One of his more notable cases was representing former California federal district judge Robert Aguilar, accused of obstruction of justice after he disclosed the existence of a federal wiretap in a racketeering investigation. The case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down, but the federal government eventually dropped the charges when Aguilar agreed to resign from the bench. In 1999, Luskin left the Washington litigation boutique Comey, Boyd & Luskin to join Patton Boggs. He told Legal Times, a sister publication of The National Law Journal, at the time that the life of a boutique practitioner is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” His stint at Patton Boggs has included representing Orange County, Calif., in a dispute over its tax assessment procedure. Luskin prevailed in the appeal last year, which overturned a decision that could have forced the county to return $10 billion to residents. Attorney Stephen Harris, a partner with Knapp, Petersen & Clarke in Glendale, Calif., who represented a taxpayer challenging Orange County, called Luskin “unconventional.” Luskin “was great at representing his client, but it was a little surprising to see the defense side wearing an earring,” Harris said. Luskin’s assignment as Rove’s champion may bring him the most recognition yet. Luskin met Rove through a referral from Patton Boggs partner Benjamin Ginsberg, a legal advisor to the Bush-Cheney campaign who in August 2004 resigned after revealing that he had also advised the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that sought to discredit John Kerry’s military record. Perhaps ironically, Luskin says he has great admiration for the press, as a former reporter for Rhode Island’s Providence Journal in the mid-1970s. “I love, respect and admire the work of reporters,” he said, adding that talking to the press is an “integral part of dealing with people in the eye of a storm.” With the Rove matter, he has plenty of opportunity to observe the press at work as a grand jury is trying to determine how the identity of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame was leaked to journalists. The investigation is looking into whether her name was released in retaliation for an editorial written by her husband, Joseph Wilson, which criticized the Bush administration’s justification for the war in Iraq. So far, Luskin has said that Rove never disclosed Plame’s name to reporters.

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