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Stop The Spying Now

Stop the Spying!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007



Karl Rove's never-particularly brilliant career as a manipulator of the political processes of the nation will end as it began: mired in scandal and failure.

As a brash 26-year-old former chairman of the College Republicans -- who had been the subject of a Watergate-era Washington Post expose headlined, "Republican Party Probes Official as Teacher of [Dirty] Tricks" -- Rove was the first aide hired to plot the campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Father Bush lost that race, but not before Rove was fired from the campaign for leaking information to the press. Fifteen years later, when he finally found a placed on another national campaign, the elder Bush's supposedly simple quest for reelection as president in 1992, Rove was again fired for leaking to the press -- in this case, talking columnist Robert Novak into writing a negative piece about Bush campaign fund-raising chief Robert Mosbacher Jr., a Rove rival. Internal disputes prompted by Rove and others in the campaign were among the reasons cited for the ultimate defeat of that Bush by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.

Rove did not give up on the Bushes, however, and the first family of American political self-service did not give up on Rove.

Less than a year after the defeat of one president named Bush, Rove was planning a gubernatorial campaign that he presumed would eventually lead to the White House for another, more morally malleable Bush. The formal relationship between George Walker Bush and Rove would continue, despite far more serious legal and ethical scandals than any witnessed during the father's campaigns, until Monday, when the political czar of the Bush-Cheney interregnum declared, "I am grateful to have been a witness to history."

With that lame line, Rove announced his resignation at the end of the month.

This exit from presidential politics did not take the form of a firing. But for all the efforts of an effusively complimentary President Bush and a suddenly religious Rove -- who, despite his reputation as a nonbeliever, mentioned God repeatedly during a Rose Garden announcement that was swimming in the smarm of convenient concern for faith and family -- it was far more embarrassing than the lawless leaker's previous departures from the national stage.

Rove was intimately involved in the campaign to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that the administration had manipulated and misused intelligence in order to make a case for attacking Iraq in 2003. Rove's old leak partner, Novak, confirmed that the Bush aide had discussed with him the fact that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency employee.
The outing of Plame as a covert operative, as part of an administration scheme to undermine Wilson's credibility, became the subject of an extended federal inquiry that would eventually lead to the conviction of Rove's crony, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice. Echoing what has become accepted wisdom in official Washington, one of the jurors who convicted Libby expressed her sense that the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney had been used as a scapegoat in an elaborate scheme to prevent the leak-prone Rove from finally being brought to justice.

But Rove avoidance of accountability in the Wilson-Plame affair does not mean that he leaves the Bush White House with a clean slate. Quite the opposite.

Rove is currently the subject of a subpoena that was issued July 26 by the Senate Judiciary Committee with the purpose of compelling him to appear personally before the committee and testify about his role in the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys who he deemed to be insufficiently political in their inquiries and prosecutions. That testimony comes in the context of a broader investigation of moves by Rove and other top members of the Bush administration to use the Department of Justice to illegally advance the political interests of the president and the Republican Party.

Unlike the Wilson-Plame controversy, the scandal involving the Justice Department goes to the specifics of Rove's brief in a White House where he was the unquestioned -- and, by all accounts, meticulously engaged -- political czar.

As Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, says, "Earlier this month, Karl Rove failed to comply with the Judiciary Committee's subpoena to testify about the mass firings of United States Attorneys. Despite evidence that he played a central role in these firings, just as he did in the Libby case involving the outing of an undercover CIA agent and improper political briefings at over 20 government agencies, Mr. Rove acted as if he was above the law. That is wrong. Now that he is leaving the White House while under subpoena, I continue to ask what Mr. Rove and others at the White House are so desperate to hide. Mr. Rove's apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation into this serious issue."

Referencing the growing sense that the inquiry into wrongdoing in and around the Justice Department could yet be the undoing of the Bush-Cheney administration, Leahy added, "The list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations continues to grow, and today, Mr. Rove added his name to that list. There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."

The truth is that Karl Rove came to this White House with a cloud over his head. Rove's appearances on the national political stage have for more than three decades been clouded by scandal. His tenure in this Bush administration was clouded by scandal. And the aftermath of that tenure will be clouded by scandal.

But the real cloud over Karl Rove is a more serious one. The man they called "Bush's brain" -- in a silly calculus developed by liberal Texans who desperately wanted to believe that it required Machiavellian manipulation to get the citizens of the Lone Star state to elect a shiftless trust-fund baby as their governor -- has proven to be every bit as inept as Bush.

There is no question that Rove came up with a good turn of phrase eight years ago -- "compassionate conservative" may have been a throwaway line, but it worked with a portion of mainstream American that in 2000 was looking for a responsible new direction. Spinning out evocative slogans is what political operatives do for a living, however, so Rove gets no more credit than the folks who gave us "a full dinner pale" or "a new deal" or "a new frontier" or "peace with honor." If Rove really was the genius some want to believe him to be, he would have done something with the phrase once he has taken an office in the White House. Instead, he never even bothered to define it -- let alone remake the Republican party in a manner that might have realized its potential to become a trusted, long-term party of government.

It is true, as well, that Rove played the 9-11 terrorist attacks for all they were was worth politically in 2002 and 2004. But an intern at the Republican National Committee office could have done that, especially after Democratic leaders such as Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle and John Kerry chose approaches that made Rove's job easier than it ever should have been.

The real test for Rove came in 2006, when he needed to maintain control of at least one house of Congress in order to preserve the smooth operations of a Bush White House that had survived in large part because of nonexistent congressional scrutiny. It should have been a breeze. Republicans has solid majorities in the House and Senate. The Senate Democrats who were up for reelection in 2006 were not a particularly potent lot. And Democratic strategists made most of their usual mistakes.

But Rove could not pull it off. He failed in the essential task of a 21st-century Machiavelli: that of securing the future.

The czar swore to the end of the campaign that he could keep the Congress reliably Republican, going so far as to berate National Public Radio's Robert Siegel for suggesting the voting might not go the way "Bush's brain" said it would. When Siegel mentioned polls that showed Democrats coming on strong, Rove growled, "I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I'm entitled to the math."

Rove's math was wrong. Yet, he refused to admit it. "I understand some will see the election as a judgment on me, but the fact of the matter is that, look what has been set in motion -- a broader, deeper, strengthened Republican Party, and with an emphasis on grass-roots neighbor-to-neighbor politics, is going to continue," he would tell the Washington Post, while announcing after the election that: "The Republican philosophy is alive and well and likely to reemerge in the majority in 2008."

Today, Republicans look to be in seriously bad shape. Even GOP operatives fear the loss of the White House and more House and Senate seats in 2008. Democratic recruitment of House and Senate candidates is going far better than Republican recruitment, as is Democratic fund raising. George Bush's approval ratings are the worst for a sitting president since Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation. Vice President Dick Cheney's numbers are dramatically worse. And impeachment resolutions are gaining cosponsors on a daily basis in Congress.

The latest issue of the conservative Economist magazine features a cover story that suggests Americans are lurching to the left politically. And the Republican presidential debates are so thick with talk of the need for "change" that you would think Bush and Cheney had governed as registered Democrats.

In the end, Rove has done his party no more favors than he has done his nation. And that is the part of his legacy that will be most damaging to the man who may have been able to manipulate a few elections but who will not succeed in manipulating history.

Scandals matter. But, in the political game, results matter more. If Republicans still controlled the House and Senate and were staking a strong claim on the White House in 2008, if Bush and Cheney had any support -- or credibility -- left, Rove would be leaving on a high note. But none of those "if's" are erring in Rove's favor.

Karl Rove leaves another Bush campaign -- and, make no mistake, the last eight years have been about campaigning, not governing -- as he has left them before: under the twin clouds of scandal and failure.
Tick off your garden variety wing-nut, and the cork is swiftly pulled from that vial of vitriol soon to be dumped on your cornflakes. But tick off a hard-line religious rightie, and you just might come to intimate terms with his terrible swift sword. Just ask former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, once the genius architect of invincible success -- before he became the architect of abysmal disaster.

Ask him about a guy named Scott Bloch. Or another named
David Kuo, the former Number 2 at the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, who let the cat out of the bag last year when he detailed Rove's disdain for the religious Bush partisans whom Rove, according to Kuo, dubbed "the nuts."

Bloch, one such "nut" and director of the
Office of Special Counsel (OSC), may have been Rove's ultimate undoing. Sure, it could have been the long reach of the Jack Abramoff affair, or something completely new and yet to be revealed, that pushed Rove out the West Wing portico. But I prefer to think it was Bloch, a vengeful wing-nut, former Bush loyalist, and devout paleo-Catholic who thought he had been brought to a minor executive office in order to make God's will manifest on Earth, and got pretty miffed when the reward for his efforts was a message sent through a White House insider that manifesting was not to be his destiny, and it was time for Bloch to go.

The OSC has the special mission of protecting the rights of federal workers, as well as enforcing the limits placed on politicking by employees of the U.S. Government under the 1939 Hatch Act. (Kudos to Christy Hardin Smith of
Firedoglake for jumping on the Hatch Act angle before many had gotten their coffee this morning.)

Bloch made a mockery of the office when in 2004 he removed from his agency's Web site a notice of long-standing protections for gays and lesbians. The protections had been part of federal employment policy for decades, leading
embarrassed Bush administration officials to have to contradict Bloch's stance, announcing that the OSC does indeed cover sexual orientation. When Rove reportedly referred to Bush's religious-right supporters as "out of control," this sort of thing may be what he had in mind.

Shortly thereafter, Bloch demanded that most of the attorneys in his office who were career employees -- not political appointees --
accept involuntary transfers to far-flung sites or lose their jobs. Nearly all of them, according to one in the group of 12, had challenged Bloch's decision to remove the nondiscrimination policy statement about gays and lesbians from the Web site, and two are openly gay themselves. Bloch's actions had started drawing the attention of the administration's opponents, something Rove had likely not anticipated when Bloch was nominated to head the rather obscure agency.

One of the agency locations to which transfers were being made was a new office Bloch was opening in Michigan, even though the agency was dealing with very few cases in that region. However, the region was home to Ave Maria Law School, an institution founded by Thomas S. Monaghan, the Daddy Warbucks of new-right Catholics, that had yet to achieve full accreditation by the American Bar Association. (It was fully accredited in August 2005, according to the
Ave Maria Web site.) Bloch ended the standard competition for law internships in his office and began hiring straight out of Ave Maria.

In early 2005, I was part of an
effort to get Bloch to resign that was led by Hans Johnson of Pride at Work. I was employed at the time by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and a member of Pride At Work -- functionally, the queer caucus of the AFL-CIO. I had experienced first-hand the zeal with which Bloch would use his office to attack Bush's foes when a radio adradio ad I had written for the union became a subject of an OSC investigation. (No charges were ever filed.)

Bloch may have thought that his brand of anti-union, homophobic loyalty to the Bush-Rove cause of misappropriating the taxpayer-funded apparatus of the federal government for partisan political purposes would win him some major kudos. But it was not to be. Apparently Bloch's Ave Maria-boostering and overtly anti-gay (hating both the sin and the sinner) antics were a bit over the top, as it were, so in 2005, Clay Johnson, the No. 2 at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) called on Bloch to resign,
according to columnist Robert Novak. Then, wrote Novak, some mysterious, unnamed, Bush-loving Catholic was dispatched to Bloch to gently suggest the same.

When Bloch refused to tender his resignation, Johnson, according to Novak, set off an investigation of Bloch via a referral to the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management. Bloch responded in kind, launching an OSC investigation into the administration's politicization of government agencies -- an investigation that
landed at Rove's door.

Bloch's inquiry lifted the lid on what many of us, dismissed as too partisan to be heeded, had already known: that under Rove's tutelage, every federal agency that could be politicized had been. Bloch uncovered a
PowerPoint presentation delivered by Rove aide J. Scott Jennings to employees of the General Services Administration that "listed Democrats the White House has targeted for defeat in 2008," according to a letter sent on July 17 to White House Political Affairs Director Sara Taylor by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Bloch investigation also uncovered the deployment of officials, apparently by Rove and on the taxpayers' dime, from the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Transportation, as well as from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to appear with Republican members of Congress who were engaged in tough 2006 re-election fights. None appeared with Democrats, and Waxman has ample evidence of the political nature of the events.

In Tempting Faith, the book he released last year, David Kuo detailed similar use of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He noted some 20 events "designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races," according to an
MSNBC story on the book. "Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports."

Of course the biggest fish are yet to land in this line of inquiry: Rove's role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys, and hard evidence of a partisan political motive. Bloch's efforts uncovered the existence of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts used by Rove and other executive branch officials for partisan political work. It was
farewell address yesterday, Rove had the gall to offer this line in praise of the man he so jealously guarded all these years: "I've seen a reformer who challenged this administration, the Congress and the country to make bold changes to important institutions in great need of repair."

Bold changes to important institutions were indeed made -- institutions in ever greater need of repair, thanks to Rove & Co. How innocent were we in 1973, when we learned of a tape that caught a president talking to his advisers about the burglary of the opposition party's offices, something we thought to be a high crime. From where we sit now, after 6 1/2 years of Rove's antics, it was just a little breaking and entering.

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