I was wet, smelling of chlorine. It was July 12, 2003, in Washington, a beautiful summer day, and I had just come back from swimming. All morning I had been trying to reach I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby for a cover story about both President George W. Bush's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's controversial Op-Ed. I had been invited to a fancy Washington country club by friends. Since the club didn't allow the use of cell phones, I kept running from pool to parking lot to try to reach Libby, who was traveling to Norfolk, Va., with Vice President Dick Cheney for the commissioning of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan. Eventually I raced home without showering in order to take Libby's call. When he finally reached me at around 3 p.m., we spoke for a few minutes as I sprawled on my bed. I had no idea that that brief phone call, along with a conversation with Karl Rove the day before, would leave me embroiled in a federal investigation for more than two years and that Libby would end up facing a five-count indictment. I doubt it occurred to Libby either. That afternoon, we talked a bit on background and off the record, and he gave me an on-the-record quote distancing Cheney from Wilson's fact-finding trip to Africa for the CIA. In fact, he was so eager to distance his boss from Wilson that a few days later, he called to rebuke me for not having used the whole quote in the piece. We updated the online version of the story, and I went on to co-author a piece for TIME.com called "A War on Wilson?," which would attract the attention of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
Almost a year passed between those pieces and my legal woes. In May 2004 I was subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, who was interested in my conversation with Libby. Since part of our conversation was on background, I, along with Time Inc.--which would be formally subpoenaed a few months later because the company controlled my computer-written notes and e-mails--fought the order to protect the principle of source confidentiality. We lost, and in early August 2004 we were both facing contempt. For Time Inc., part of the global behemoth Time Warner, that meant a fine; for me, jail.