News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The man behind the man: Rove is the White House's key player

By Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush once said he would fire any White House staffer who had leaked the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. But if that source were Karl Rove, the president's longtime political guru, a firing would be a devastating blow to the White House.

Rove, after all, is more than just a top presidential aide: He was the architect of Bush's rise to power. He orchestrates policy initiatives and is aggressively charting a course for long-lasting Republican dominance.

But now Rove is facing a barrage of questions over his conversation with a reporter about the case. His lawyer denies any criminal wrongdoing and any intent to leak the name of an undercover agent. The disclosure this week that Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper talked in 2003 with Rove on "double super secret background" about Plame, as Cooper wrote in an e-mail to his bureau chief, revealed one aspect of Rove's vast White House duties that are rarely discussed publicly: press relations.

As the Cooper e-mail indicates, Rove has duties beyond his official role of working on foreign and domestic policy development. He has, in fact, the broadest portfolio of any presidential aide in history: He micromanages policy, leads outreach efforts to key GOP constituencies and supervises election strategy down to the precinct level, not only for the president but for congressional candidates.

Rove also maintains contacts at leading news organizations and often provides background guidance to top reporters and editors, as he did for Cooper. These contacts are part of Rove's less-discussed role of crafting Bush's image, enforcing the strict Bush code of discipline and jumping hard on perceived opponents of the president.

"If you are at a senior level in Washington these days, you inevitably must deal with the media," said Terry Holt, a former White House aide, speaking of Rove. "He has good relationships [with reporters], and he's good at it. He has great credibility with the people that he deals with."

Cooper's conversation with Rove occurred after a July 2003 New York Times op-ed piece written by Plame's husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, who questioned administration claims that Iraq had attempted to buy materials from Niger used to build nuclear weapons. Critics have claimed that the White House leaked Plame's CIA role in retribution.

Rove's most significant relationship in Washington is the one he has with Bush. The symbiotic partnership not only helped Bush win the Texas governor's mansion twice and two White House terms but has also fueled a national political transformation that has made the GOP dominant in a growing number of states.

While Bush has used the bully pulpit of the White House to rally public support for his response to terrorism, his tax cuts and his proposed reforms of Medicare, education and Social Security, Rove has used the power he accumulated in his office to micromanage presidential policy decisions.

He has also overseen electoral politics down to individual congressional races. Rove, who carries the title deputy chief of staff, helped steer the Republicans to victory in 2002 midterm elections and Bush to re-election in 2004, and has actively recruited candidates for key races. Most recently, he met at the White House with a potential challenger to Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

Despite the closeness, Rove and the president came from very different worlds. Bush is the scion of wealth and power, a graduate of the nation's most prestigious schools. Rove grew up the son of an oil geologist who moved frequently around the West. He never graduated from college.

Bush and Rove came together during young adulthood when an ambitious former Texas congressman, George H.W. Bush, held the job of chairman of the Republican National Committee. It fell to the elder Bush to investigate allegations that Rove had used dirty tricks in a campaign for president of the College Republicans. The RNC chairman eventually cleared Rove, and he was so impressed by the young operative that he hired him as an assistant.

A collaboration between Rove and the younger Bush didn't take root immediately. But these two men, who first became acquainted in 1973, would come to see the political world and its prospects in similar ways, building such catchphrases as "compassionate conservatism" in 2000 and the creation of an "ownership society" in 2004 into lures for many who had not voted Republican in the past.

Republican strategists credit Rove not only with his constant preparations for the next election but for laying a foundation for GOP success in future campaigns. Critics say he has brazenly pushed his obsession with electoral politics into the deepest levels of the executive branch.

For example, he and Kenneth Mehlman, his onetime deputy who now heads the Republican National Committee, made a point of visiting nearly every Cabinet agency in advance of the 2002 midterm elections, providing polling data and election priorities for top agency managers.

In early 2002, Rove personally addressed the 50 most senior employees of the Interior Department at a retreat in West Virginia. He showed them a slide presentation summarizing presidential polling and key races. Then, from the podium, he mentioned upcoming Interior Department decisions that could influence the midterm elections.

At the time, Rove noted that Oregon's incumbent senator, Republican Gordon Smith, faced a difficult re-election. The Interior Department was then facing a question of whether to allow drought-stricken farmers to pull more water from Oregon's Klamath River, endangering the state's salmon population. Farmers are a critical part of that GOP base.

An inspector general's report subsequently concluded there was no inappropriate pressure on the decision-makers in the Klamath case. But the controversial decision to release water to farmers resulted in the largest fish kill in the West and still angers Indian fishermen and environmentalists. Smith won re-election.

Rove also personally calls potential candidates for Senate seats, encouraging his favorites to run and urging others to stand down. Just last month, he met privately at the White House with the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Allan Bense, hoping to entice Bense to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson next year. The meeting came even though another prominent Republican, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, had already announced her intention to run.

Rove serves, too, as Bush's ambassador to the conservative movement and is intimately involved in encouraging the elements of the Republican coalition — social conservatives and business lobbyists — to back the Bush agenda.

Rove helped mastermind a new GOP strategy of treating national elections like a series of county-commission contests. He can recite precinct-by-precinct data in key battleground states and counties from memory, and he developed the 2004 plan of finding new voters in the fast-growing exurbs.

"If you view politics as the art of getting things done, then Karl is clearly an extraordinary success," said David Winston, a GOP pollster who works closely with senior Republicans on electoral strategies. "If you view the mixture of politics and policy as a negative thing, then Karl is not your cup of tea."

Rove has found himself at the center of similar controversies before.

The leaking of Plame's identity recalls an incident from the 1992 presidential campaign, in which Rove was fired from the elder Bush's re-election team because of suspicions that he had leaked information to columnist Robert Novak — the same columnist who first reported Plame's CIA role in 2003, citing anonymous administration sources.

At the time, Bush's campaign was in trouble, and there was concern he might not even win his home state of Texas. The Novak column described a Dallas meeting in which the campaign's state manager, Robert Mosbacher, was stripped of his authority, because the Texas effort was viewed as a bust.

Mosbacher complained, expressing his suspicion that Rove was the leaker. Rove denied the charge, but he was fired nevertheless.
Key dates in his life and career:

Dec. 25, 1950: Karl Christian Rove born in Denver.

High-school years: Family moves to Salt Lake City, where Rove volunteers for a Republican senator's re-election campaign.

1969-71: Attends the University of Utah and joins College Republicans.

1971-1977: Executive director and then chairman of College Republican National Committee.

1974-1975: Republican National Committee Chairman George H.W. Bush hires Rove as his special assistant.

1977: Moves to Texas and becomes aide to George H.W. Bush's political-action committee. Rove leaves the job to work in the gubernatorial campaign of Bill Clements, who in 1978 becomes Texas' first Republican governor in more than a century.

1980: When George H.W. Bush announces his decision to run for the Republican presidential nomination, Rove is the first person the campaign hires.

1984: Rove helps Phil Gramm win election to Senate from Texas.

1986: Rove announces he had found an electronic listening device in his office, helping Clements defeat Democratic Gov. Mark White. Many Texas Democrats believe Rove concocted the story.

1992: The first President Bush fires Rove from his re-election campaign after information was leaked to columnist Robert Novak. Rove denies he was the source.

1994: Political adviser in George W. Bush's first run for Texas governor, an upset victory over Democratic incumbent Ann Richards. Bush wins a landslide re-election in 1998.

2000: Orchestrates Bush's presidential campaign, which ends in victory after Supreme Court intervenes.

Nov. 3, 2004: Bush wins re-election with Rove as his chief political adviser.

Sources: Complete Marquis Who's Who, 2005; Who's Who in American Politics, 1999; Current Biography, 2000; The Associated Press.
Cooper's e-mail, which suggests that Rove did not mention Plame by name even while referring to her CIA role, became public this week when it was published by Newsweek. In some cases, revealing the name of an undercover CIA worker is a violation of law.

Times staff writer Rick Schmitt and researcher Benjamin Weyl contributed to this report.


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