Rove and Bush delivered tearful farewells on the White House lawn this morning. It was an emotional experience. But I’m still counting on this evening’s Daily Show to deliver a more cheerful take on the scene.
The question now becomes “what next”? Rove told Paul Gigot that he was finished with political consulting—but I’ll give long odds against that. Certainly he will write a book with the official Karl Rove account of the Bush White House.
But of course, reports of Rove’s disappearance from the Washington political scene are premature. In fact, Senator Leahy was very quick to point out that he has some unfinished business with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now that he’s leaving the White House, it’s unlikely that the subpoena showdown will simply go away. Rather the opposite. His departure puts the Judiciary Committee on firmer grounds to press ahead. Leahy put it this way:
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.
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.
Executive privilege has historically been invoked as a protective shield for the president’s most senior advisors. The president is entitled to command the full attention of those who work for him, so the argument goes. His advisors should therefore be shielded from being drawn into time-consuming inquiries elsewhere. With Rove’s departure from the White House, this argument lapses, and the executive privilege argument for Rove becomes much weaker.
Of course Rove can still make the argument that the inquiry marks a sensitive prying into conversations between Rove and the president. This was always a difficult argument for the Bush White House. For one thing, many of the materials in question were apparently stored on a Republican National Committee server, suggesting that Rove considered the matter to be of a partisan political nature. (An assessment which, I hasten to add, seems entirely correct: it was all about partisan politics). And when Rove is acting for the Republican Party and not for the president, there is no executive privilege argument.
But even beyond this, Rove adopted a posture early in the case that belies claims of confidentiality. In the first few months of the case, when the Justice Department and Rove were pursuing a well-coordinated and probably illegal strategy of playing the issue down by insisting that it was “just politics” and that the U.S. attorneys in question had been fired on the grounds of poor performance, Karl Rove was out on the hustings chatting about the matter.
For instance, back on March 15, Rove was down at Troy State in Alabama’s wiregrass district, to deliver a speech at the Journalism Center. His speech, which can be viewed here, was a very thoughtful discussion of the role of the media in American politics. And then he turned to more current affairs, namely the cashiering of eight (at least at that point we thought it was eight, subsequently it turned out to be more) U.S. attorneys.
“We’re at a point where people want to play politics with it, and that’s fine,” Rove said after delivering a speech at Troy State University. “I would simply ask that everybody who’s playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration and see if they had the same superheated political rhetoric then that they’re having now.”
This was a vintage performance by Rove. He covers his own political antics by accusing those who have caught him at it of politics. And he produces a defense that sounds plausible, but is bogus. Yes, it’s true that a newly elected president gets the resignations of all U.S. attorneys when he is first inaugurated. The new president then appoints his own replacements. The U.S. attorneys scandal has nothing to do with that. And indeed, we know from some of the correspondence that has come out, Rove fully appreciated that. There was a good bit of back-and-forth about how many U.S. attorneys (all initially appointed by Bush, of course) could be cashiered without eyebrows being raised. Rove weighed the matter, took a count and evidently came out with a number. All drawn from “Battleground States,” and all people who had crossed him by refusing the politicize their offices. And that determined who got canned.
Isn’t it interesting, by the way, that the Rove appearance occurred in Troy State, Alabama? As Josh Green recounted in The Atlantic back in 2004, Rove relaunched his political career down in Alabama and he feels almost as much “at home” there as in Texas, what with his tight ties to William Canary and his Business Council of Alabama, to Stewart Hall and his Federalist Group, and to numerous political campaigns in the state.
But what exactly drew Karl Rove at such a critical time down to Troy State? Troy State was looking for a speaker to keynote an important function for its journalism program and it turned to its representatives in Congress, Terry Everett and Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Congressman Everett, we are told, said he could deliver Karl Rove. And indeed, he did. This is, of course, the Terry Everett who was the mentor to Federal District Court Judge Mark Everett Fuller, who in turn presided over the trial of Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. He prides himself on his close relations with Rove, it seems. And there’s good cause for it. The Alabama G.O.P. has been very good to Karl Rove, and Karl Rove has been very good to the Alabama G.O.P. It’s a thoroughly symbiotic relationship.
In the meantime we’ve gotten a good deal more information on how Judge Fuller’s Alabama G.O.P. connections were parlayed into success in the lucrative world of federal government contracts. Stay tuned…