For the last couple of months we’ve been focusing on the politicization of the Justice Department under both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, and the significant number of prosecutions brought and quashed which appear to have been politically directed. But we need to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
Karl Rove has played a key role in the politicization of almost every department of the federal government. And by “politicization” in this context, we mean the process of redirecting federal personnel and assets to the accomplishment of a partisan political agenda. That means, first and foremost, doing exactly what Karl Rove sits in the White House to do: namely, insuring the election of Republican candidates to elective office and the defeat of Democrats. So far it appears that Rove or his immediate subordinates made trips, usually with powerpoint briefing presentations, to agencies all over Washington and gave presentations designed to bolster Republican Party morale and to make clear what the party’s objectives were in the coming elections. The briefings frequently identified specific Democrats who hold office who were to be taken out, at the polls, or in some other way (Alberto Gonzales, of course, is one of the experts in the “other ways”).
The list of agencies empressed into GOP electoral politics is stunning. Here’s the Washington Post’s current tally:
Department of Education
Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Housing and Urban Development
General Services Administration
Environmental Protection Agency
Small Business Administration
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Office of National Drug Control Policy
U.S. Agency for International Development
The Department of Homeland Security has so far failed to respond to queries, which is the standard practice of Homeland Security, the newest government agency and the one whose name still sounds far better in the original German (this is Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, affectionately known to generations of GDR citizens as “Stasi,” rendered into English). But our information is that DHS was one of the points of most intense action, and indeed it’s ability to disseminate fear on cue has been essential to GOP electoral efforts in three successive elections.
Further evidence of a widespread agenda to politicize the government comes now in the form of a piece by Paul Kane of The Washington Post, who today details political briefings administered to Department of State officials by Karl Rove’s subordinates at his direction. The news seems to indicate an unquestionable violation of the Hatch Act, the law prohibiting federal employees from becoming engaged in politics and using government resources for partisan efforts. A number of ambassadors sat for the non-obligatory briefings, which covered various gubernatorial and Congressional elections from 2001 to 2006. The meetings were designed to explain Republican strategies for upcoming elections, and to address such political losses as those experienced by the GOP in 2006:
According to a department letter to the Senate panel, Rove [in one briefing] explained the White House views on the electoral disaster while Sara M. Taylor, then the director of White House political affairs, showed a PowerPoint presentation that pinned most of the electoral blame on “corrupt” GOP lawmakers and “complacent incumbents.” One chart in Taylor’s presentation highlighted the GOP’s top 36 targets among House Democrats for the 2008 election.
A major Executive agency hirtherto thought to be nonpolitical even in the wake of the DOJ scandals has been breached by the meddling of Karl Rove. The news provides circumstantial evidence that, when paired with massive evidence of politically-motivated prosecutions at Justice, suggests widespread efforts by the White House to inappropriately manipulate the government for partisan ends. It’s not terrible for some Ambassadors to be staunch Republicans. The real tragedy is the damage done by Karl Rove and his amateur political underlings to Executive agencies that must retain an appearance of political neutrality to function effectively. In the midsts of major foreign policy challenges, what’s the message being sent by the White House? Forget diplomacy. We put no confidence in that in any event. We put our faith in force of arms. We need all of you out there in the electoral trenches, turning out the base. Remember where your bread is buttered.
This entire program constitutes a conspiracy to undermine the Hatch Act, carried out over a protracted period and involving hundreds of federal employees. It is a serious crime. But what is the reaction of Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department? He seems to have forgotten about it. Terrible, all those lapses of memory.