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

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Newsview: Bush Could Lose Rove Over Probe on Yahoo! News

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

For nearly a quarter century, Karl Rove has been George Bush's political mentor. Bush calls him "the architect," the "boy genius." Others have called him "Bush's brain."

Now, with a federal grand jury nipping at Rove's heels in its CIA leak investigation, the president may have to contemplate the previously unthinkable: managing without his right-hand man.

Rove helped Bush create a political persona and steered him to victory in two Texas gubernatorial and two presidential races. He polished Bush's message, nurtured ties with conservatives, oversaw crisis control and helped frame major policy initiatives.

"He's the president's alter ego on political and domestic policy," said veteran Republican strategist Charles Black. While Rove's most important past service to Bush — as a campaign strategist — is no longer needed by Bush, "he's still very valuable in terms of running domestic policy," Black said.

Rove is also helping to steer GOP efforts to expand their congressional majorities in the 2006 midterm elections and is seen by some as a would-be GOP kingmaker for 2008.

If Rove, 54, is forced to resign, it would be a major blow to a presidency already reeling from low approval ratings, the war in Iraq, rising gas prices and the aftermath of two Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Some Republicans suggest the investigation has already taken a toll, weakening and distracting Rove. Some even suggest the botched early response to Hurricane Katrina and the flash of indignation from the political right over the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination might have been averted had Rove been more hands-on.

It's hard to imagine Bush without Rove. Some Rove colleagues say, privately, that he is all but irreplaceable. They suggest nobody else now on the scene combines Rove's intimate knowledge of both politics and policy while also enjoying the full confidence of the president.

Rove's title, that of deputy White House chief of staff, hardly shows the enormous influence he wields.

Rove has already testified three times in the probe into whether an administration official deliberately leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband is an administration critic. Rove has agreed to testify again, possibly this week, and prosecutors have told him they can no longer assure him he'll escape indictment.

Knowingly revealing the identity of a covert agent is a federal crime.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to determine if White House aides violated the law in an attempt to get back at Plame's husband, former career diplomat Joseph Wilson for his assertions that the administration intentionally exaggerated Iraq's nuclear capability to pump up support for an invasion.

Rove has acknowledged that he discussed Wilson's allegations with reporters, but he said he was not the one who revealed Plame's identity. Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, also has acknowledged talking to reporters about the Plame case.

People familiar with Rove's testimony have told The Associated Press that Bush asked him in the fall of 2003 for assurances he was not involved in an effort to divulge Plame's identity and punish Wilson — and Rove told the president he was not.

At first, the White House flatly denied that Rove had been involved. Bush promised to fire anyone on his staff responsible for such a leak. He later stepped back, saying just that he would remove aides who committed crimes.

At a news conference last week, Bush declined to say whether he would remove an aide under indictment. On Tuesday, he told NBC's "Today" show: "I'm not going to talk about the case."

Rich Galen, a Republican consultant, said that Bush — the only U.S. president with a master's degree in business administration — was following the corporate model in delegating his political portfolio to Rove and then giving him considerable leeway, as a company chief executive might do with a trusted manager.

In Rove's case, his influence has grown well beyond the political portfolio because he and Bush "have been on the same wave length for so long," Galen said.

Frank Luntz, a pollster and analyst who often works for Republicans, warns against counting Rove out based on what may look like ominous signs from the grand jury.

"Rove has always been a survivor. He's brilliant at understanding the right thing to do at the right moment. He specializes in the ability to handle a crisis. What he has done for the president, I actually expect him now to do for himself," Luntz said. "He'll know what to do and what to say."


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