Karl Rove's Convenient Memory Lapses | Harper's Magazine

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Karl Rove’s Convenient Memory Lapses


The human memory is an amazing engine, but Karl Rove’s is something truly extraordinary. Consider Rove’s last brush with the law—in connection with the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Rove told investigators that he learned about Plame’s status from a reporter whose name he couldn’t recall; he also failed to disclose a discussion he had with Time Magazine’s Matt Cooper in which Rove told Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA. Then Rove learned that Cooper had testified about all of this before a grand jury. Suddenly, Rove’s memory improved, and he rushed back to the grand jury to “supplement” his prior testimony.

Rove is now in the crosshairs of a special prosecutor’s investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. The 6,000 pages of evidence released recently by the House Judiciary Committee make plain that he orchestrated the firings, and that in so doing he was driven by partisan political concerns. They also eviscerate his claims to have played only a “minor role” as a “conduit.” The documents and testimony make clear that Rove expected U.S. attorneys to use their office for the benefit of the G.O.P.—by prosecuting Democrats, squelching investigations of Republicans, or bringing bogus voting fraud charges that would adversely affect Democrats—or they would lose their jobs. This conduct invites the prosecutors to consider whether Rove and others in the White House were seeking to “corruptly influence” criminal investigations—a felony. That call is up to Nora Dannehy, the special prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to study the matter. All indications now suggest that she has concluded that enough evidence exists to make out charges against some of the actors—though it is far from clear that she will seek indictments. After all, not all crimes are prosecuted, a fact that may provide Karl Rove a good deal of solace.

While developments in New Mexico have taken center stage in the probe, Rove’s relationship to the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman in Alabama also continues to raise serious issues. Rove’s email box had no shortage of traffic concerning Siegelman and his prosecution—largely information funneled to him by G.O.P. operatives in Alabama, prominently including Toby Roth, then chief of staff to Governor Bob Riley. As I noted in 2007, when Rove’s name first surfaced in the Siegelman matter, Roth suddenly appeared in the Alabama press launching specious attacks on his accusers. That may turn out to be a highly revealing maneuver. But the emails are already enough to show that Rove’s claims that he only learned about the matter “from the newspapers” are untruthful. The documents make plain that Rove took a keen interest in the case against Siegelman and fully appreciated the political impact of this prosecution—which was indeed essential for Karl Rove’s political plans in the Southland.

Rove calls himself “Grendel,” “Moby Dick,” and “Lord Voldemort.” He views the whole investigation as a sort of blood sport in which he is the crafty prey eluding his pursuers. He has repeatedly issued statements that sound like denials, but when examined closely turn out to be carefully constructed non-denials. What happens when he testifies under penalty of perjury? The Birmingham News gives its story the headline, “Karl Rove Denies Role in Former Gov. Don Siegelman Case.” It goes on to state that he “denied” involvement in the case, stating that this was “his first time answering questions in person and under oath.” But each of these statements is untrue. First, Rove did not testify “under oath” because he pointedly refused to do so. (He is still subject to potential prosecution for false statements because a separate criminal statute makes it an offense to make a false or misleading statement to Congress.) Second, Rove’s “denials” were not actually denials. He was extremely careful to limit his response in each case to present recollection. The experience of the Plame case suggests that he may have a resurgence of memory if evidence surfaces that contradicts his testimony. Rove is answering the questions in a manner calculated to protect himself against a perjury rap. Roger Shuler and Zachary Roth each provide a careful review of Rove’s non-denial denials relating to Siegelman. Glynn Wilson takes us through some of the names that appear and explains why Rove’s failure to recollect or his exceedingly vague recollections of these individuals strains credulity. Only one clear conclusion can be drawn from a review of the documents and Rove’s own testimony: he’s not coming clean with the facts.

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