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

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Philippine News Online: Top Rove aide ‘critical’ in CIA probe

WASHINGTON D.C. – Filipino American Susan Ralston, chief of-staff to presidential adviser Karl Rove, is one of nearly two dozen White House officials – including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney – believed to have knowledge about the outing of Central Intelligence Agency operative agent Valerie Plame.

Ralston, Rove’s right-hand man, is scheduled to appear again before Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who is investigating the circumstances surrounding the leak of Plame’s identity in the media.

Plame’s work in the CIA was revealed after her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson challenged President Bush’s reasons for going to war in Iraq. Exposing an agent is a crime as it endangers the agent’s life as well as the security of his or her family.

Ralston appears to be a person of critical interest in the investigation, just like her boss Rove.

Rove is one of the officials who had spoken with journalists who had written about Plame. Another one who spoke to the press is Dick Cheney chief-of-staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was indicted for perjury. Fitzgerald said Libby lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and obstructed investigation.

As Rove’s assistant covering for him from policy pronouncements down to housekeeping issues, Ralston works very closely with George Bush’s senior adviser.

In one of the two appearances before the Special Prosecutor, she and another Rove aide, Israel Hernandez, were asked why Rove’s phone conversation with journalist Cooper was not recorded in the logbook. The response was that Cooper did not dial Rove directly but was switched to his line by the operator.

Ralston, in her usual, briskly efficient but friendly manner, apologized that she was occupied and could not speak to Philippine News for this article. Later that day, Maria Kimmery, White House media liaison officer, called on behalf of Susan and suggested that White House press spokesman Scott McClelland’s remarks at that day’s press meeting might be helpful for PN’s purpose.

The Filipino American community is keeping close tabs on the investigation. Many of them said it would be regrettable if Ralston left the White House for any reason, but especially with a whiff of scandal attached to her name.

“Susan has been helpful and very responsive to [some] concerns of the community, “ Armando “Doy” Heredia, coordinator and chief of staff of National Federation of Filipino American Associations (Naffaa), told PN. “She helped us in the capacity that she has by connecting us to the White House.”

He was referring to how Ralston had personally arranged for the White House director for domestic affairs to meet with Heredia and Naffaa president Loida Nicolas Lewis in 2004 in an effort to win the Bush administration’s support for the passage of the Filipino World War II veterans’ legislation.

“That would be a sad day for the Filipino American community if she is removed from the White House,” Ed Navarra, Naffaa Region III chairman said. “She has given the Filipinos in America visibility by being in the White House.”

Noni Abrajano, a Republican organizer and active community leader in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, recalled how gracious and friendly Ralston was when she agreed to be grand marshal at the Philippine-U.S. Friendship Parade and Festival held two years ago.

“She has given us visibility and presence at the mainstream level, and I would be sad if she would not be at the White House anymore,” he told PN. He added that he did not think that she would be found to have “done something wrong.”
“She does her job well, and I – we – are proud of her,” he added.

Maurese Oteyza Owens, one of the organizers of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia and long-time supporter of the Filipino WW II veterans cause, however, appeared lukewarm about Ralston’s future.

“What has she done for me, or for the Filipino American community?” she asked rhetorically. Other than giving Filipinos visibility because of her being one of them and occupying a prominent position in the White House, she thinks that Ralston has not distinguished herself as one interested in the Filipino community. “She turned me off in a couple of occasions,” Owens said.

One occasion was at a Philippine American Foundation’s achievement award and dinner held at the National Press Club when the veterans, led by Patrick Ganio, waited to greet her personally and to hand her a letter of thanks for her support for the veterans cause.

Upset by an earlier misunderstanding about the timing of a White House meeting Ralston refused to greet the elderly veterans and walked away.

Stunned but philosophical, Ganio, a Purple Heart recipient from battles in Bataan and who had flown all the way from his home in Florida for the occasion, remarked gamely, “Bata pa kasi…[She’s still young…]”

But that incident also demonstrated Susan’s strength as an organized and systematic operator. Her message to the veterans was, “don’t make it difficult for us to help you; you don’t make it easy for us by causing us embarrassment.”

At 37, Ralston, a graduate of management, had worked as assistant to Jack Abramoff, a powerfully connected lobbyist, at the Preston Gates and Ellis and later at Greenberg Taurig law and lobbying firms. Story had it that Abramoff, indicted on alleged corruption charges involving, among others, former Republican majority leader Tom DeLay, had offered Ralston to Rove when the latter was looking for an efficient and trusted assistant.

Before working in the nation’s capital, she was an office administrator for a commercial and real estate firm in Chicago, Ill.

Ralston has been promoted to Special Assistant to the President and Assistant to the President Senior Adviser with an annual salary of $92,000. She is married to Troy Ralston, executive director of a graduate school of management.

Karl is an amazing person to work for. I feel very, very fortunate to be in an office where so much is happening,” Ralston told this reporter in a 2003 interview.


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