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2003-10-01

Conflict of Interest? White House Rejects Call for Independent Counsel On CIA Leak Despite Longtime Rove-Ashcroft Ties

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President Bush’s closest aide Karl Rove was a consultant for John Ashcroft since 1985 in his gubernatorial and senatorial bids and pushed Bush to nominate Ashcroft as Attorney General. Rove has been accused of blowing the cover of a CIA operative to retaliate against her whistleblower husband. We speak to the author of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush President. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript The Justice Department announced yesterday that it has begun a full criminal investigation into allegations that Bush administration officials leaked the name of a CIA operative to the media.

The operative’s identity was published in July, a week after her husband, former acting ambassador to Iraq Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger for possible use in nuclear weapons.

But the White House has rejected calls for an independent counsel even though Bush’s closest aide Karl Rove, who has been accused of having a role in the leak, once served as a consultant to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Rove had done campaign work for Ashcroft since 1985 in both his gubernatorial and senatorial bids in Missouri and lobbied hard for Ashcroft’s nomination as Attorney General after the Missouri Senator lost his seat to a dead man–the late Mel Carnahan.

After encountering strong opposition to his nomination, Rove and others reportedly told Bush that spilling some blood over Ashcroft was "a no-lose proposition."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday joined Democrat demands for a special prosecutor saying: "Given allegations about the involvement of senior White House officials and the past close association between the Attorney General and one of those officials, the investigation should be headed by a person independent of the administration. If there ever was a case for the appointment of a special counsel, this is it."

Nearly three months after officials within the White House outted the operative, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered the preservation of any documents related to the case.

In particular, Gonzales cited any contacts with conservative columnist Robert Novak who first revealed that Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative. He also cited Timothy M. Phelps, Washington bureau chief for Newsday, and Knut Royce, a staff writer for the paper.

Newsday Editor Howard Schneider said last night his newspaper has had no contact with the White House or Justice Department about the memo. He said, however, that Newsday was probably singled out because the newspaper was the first to report that the CIA officer publicly revealed in Novak’s column worked at the CIA "in an undercover capacity."

  • James Moore, co-author of the book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush President. He has been writing and reporting on Karl Rove for over 20 years. His new book, scheduled to come out next spring, is Bush’s War for Re-Election.
    Website: Bush’s Brain.com
  • Tape: President George W. Bush speaking on September 30, 2003.
  • Tape: Attorney General John Ashcroft speaking on September 30, 2003.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: George Bush yesterday was raising money in the Midwest, but recorders were asking questions about the blowing of the cover of a C.I.A. operative.

[tape]

GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.

And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of. And so I welcome the investigation. I — I’m absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job. There’s a special division of career Justice Department officials who are tasked with doing this kind of work; they have done this kind of work before in Washington this year.

I have told our administration, people in my administration to be fully cooperative. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush yesterday.

The White House ordering its employees to preserve all records relevant to the probe, the justice department notified the White House Council’s office of the investigation Monday night and asked it to preserve its records, but allowed it to wait until yesterday morning before ordering White House staffers to do so. This according to White House spokesperson, Scott Mcclellan.

Newsday today, a piece says that 11hour lag drew fire from administration critics such as senator Charles Schumer of New York. Who said, "Any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence." Schumer said the issue underscored the need to turn the probe over to an independent prosecutor.

We’re joined now by James Moore, he is coauthor of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JAMES MOORE: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go for a minute to Attorney General John Ashcroft, yesterday. Attorney General John Ashcroft actually refuses to speak and sit down interviews to the print press but he had a quick statement yesterday where he referred to another issue and then talked about opening the probe into who blew the cover of the C.I.A. operative.

JOHN ASHCROFT: Yesterday the department of justice informed the White House Council’s office of this investigation, hand requested that the White House preserve all documents that might be relevant to the investigation, to the extent not already done in the normal course of their activities.

A similar request has been made of the C.I.A. Such requests are standard procedures in investigations of this type.

Due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation of alleged criminal violations, I will not be making any further comment regarding this matter at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday saying no to an independent council so often called on during the Clinton years. James Moore, in your book Bush’s Brain you talk about what clearly represents a conflict of interest here, and that is the relationship between Karl Rove, one of the people who has been named by Joseph Wilson as a possible source of the information that outed Wilson’s wife as a C.I.A. operative. The relationship between Karl Rove and John Ashcroft, it goes back years.

JAMES MOORE: It goes all the way back to the mid 1980’s when John Ashcroft first ran for governor and then when he ran for the United States senate against Mel Carnahan.

Karl was so intimately involved; he was a general consultant and he chose, for instance, the media director of Mr. Ashcroft’s campaign, the person who was to produce the television ads for the campaign, the messages in those ads.

So I think it’s very difficult on its surface for John Ashcroft to be taken seriously as an investigator. You can make your charges of politics all you want, that a Republican cannot adequately investigate this. That’s not necessarily a grounds for refusal, but because this has happened before.

In this case, there is a close relationship between someone who is a high profile suspect and the individual who is leading the investigation of him. And it immediately goes to the question of credibility and validity of that particular investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: So Karl Rove works on campaigns for John Ashcroft, first for governor of Missouri then senator. You also talk about the long time relationship between Karl Rove and Robert Novak also the center of this firestorm.

JAMES MOORE: This relationship has existed for some time; and it’s not surprising that another Bush, George H. W. Bush had Karl fired for this relationship.

Karl was a lead consultant in the Bush/Quayle 1992 campaign in Texas, and at that time, a story was reported by Robert Novak that the Texas campaign was in disarray for Bush/Quayle.

This story we all believe, and obviously, the President George H.W. Bush believed was the result of Karl who had gone head to head with Robert Moss Bacher jr. of Houston, who was in charge of the campaign in Texas, and Rove decided to leak a story to Robert Novak that the campaign was in disarray. The article appeared in Novak’s column and George H.W. bush decided it was clearly Rove and his relationship with Mr. Novak, and Rove was fired at that time.

There are other anecdotal pieces of information related to this. For instance during the presidential campaign, when reporters started to step up the questions about the National Guard, I recall standing on the tarmac outside of the campaign plane when Rove told a number of us reporters gathered around that, when we were asking questions about where did Mr. Bush go during his assignment in Alabama his commander said he never showed up for duty, Rove told us all we were making too much of the "few missed meetings at the guard".

It wasn’t 48 hours later you could turn on the television hear Robert Novak talking about reporters making too much of a few missed meetings. It was almost the exact same language that Rove had used.

This relationship is known to virtually everyone in the Washington political press Corps. It’s not a surprise that if in fact six reporters got this phone call to write this story and they all turned it down because they were uncomfortable with it, it is not a surprise to anyone in the Washington press corps that the only person who wrote the story was Robert Novak.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s step back for a minute. Actually yesterday, when we were calling bookstores to get your book, it was a little odd calling up and saying, do you have Bush’s Brain But you are the author of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, can you talk about who Karl Rove is?

JAMES MOORE: Certainly. I think that’s an important question to ask right now when he is being accused of this. You have to look at pattern of behavior. One thing that’s being overlooked in all of this is Karl’s Achilles’ tendon; as a political operative, the only thing that I have ever seen as his weakness is his unbridled, uncontrolled temper.

When you cross this man in the political arena, he gets even; and he gets even in a way that he doesn’t just defeat you, he is compelled to destroy you.

This has happened on any number of occasions throughout his political career with his former partner, and it has happened with a number of people who have stood in his way.

He doesn’t know how to do a measured response when he is angry, and so he leaks information about people that destroys them. Whether it is a scurrilous rumor or whether it is something that is marginally based on fact. He goes after people for this reason.

Those of us who have watched Karl’s character and his absolute desire, not just to control everything, but to defeat his opponents are not surprised by these allegations.

I will also say that he is a man who is completely obsessed with control, down to the most minute level. His level of minutia for a campaign manager or a political operative is so detailed that it’s astonishing. He can look at the big picture and do the smaller stuff.

Everyone within the White House, within the Republican Party, and every reporter in the Washington press corps knows that no leak ever comes out of the White House without Karl’s approval.

It is impossible for any of us to believe that this happened without Karl knowing about it. Furthermore, it’s impossible for us to believe that Karl sent a low level intermediary or someone else to carry his water on this. This is the kind of thing that Karl would have done on his own to make sure that it had credibility and weight.

If Mr. Novak didn’t get this directly from Karl, I’m almost Mr. Novak picked up the phone and called Karl to get it corroborated; you do not get to quote senior administration officials by getting the message from some intermediary at the R.N.C. or from a White House staffer.

These are firsthand conversations that occurred between Mr. Rove and, in my estimation, the other suspect involved in the phone campaign, probably scooter Libby of the Vice President’s office.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to James Moore, he is an Emmy Award winning TV news correspondent with more than a quarter of a century in print and broadcast.

He is coauthor of the book, with Wayne Slater, Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential. We’ll come back with him and look at the history of Rove with George Bush back before Bush became even governor of Texas.

After that, we’ll be speaking with Nat Hentoff about the U.S.A. Patriot Act, about librarians, about the history of the war on the bill of rights and the gathering resistance. Stay with us.

[¶MUSIC BREAK¶]

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with James Moore, author of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential..

Actually, I want to go back further, before George Bush became governor. Let’s go back to the beginning of Karl Rove’s political career.

JAMES MOORE: Karl Rove began his political career as he traveled around the country trying to become the head of the College Republicans. Even that turned controversial where there was a fight over who won a shouting match at the convention. He and Lee Atwater were trying to get Karl elected, and the votes were not properly counted. It almost foreshadowed what happened in Florida, for crying out loud. Then, ultimately, there was an allegation by Rove that his opponent went to the media complaining about the election and the party, et cetera.

George H.W. Bush, who was the head of the R.N.C. at that time, wrote Karl’s opponent to say how dare you talk to the media even though he had no proof that this gentleman had done it.

What he did know that was that Karl had tipped him to it, it appeared in the Washington Post and the president, who later became the President, but at that time was R.N.C. head said that the greatest sin here was not so much that Karl stole the election, but that someone would talk to the media about it and go outside the R.N.C. family. He chose Karl to come in and run the College Republicans. That began his relationship with George H.W. Bush. At that time, George W. Bush was coming down from Harvard on weekends to see his dad and hang out in Washington and Karl met him at that time.

Karl was sort of a geeky, dweeby fellow and here comes the blue-eyed gum snapping W., wearing a leather bomber jacket, and having wavy hair and looking good and Karl admired him. He said so to us.

Ultimately he went down, Karl went down when Mr. Bush moved back to Texas to run for congress, Karl came to Texas not too long afterwards. He helped Mr. Bush in the fund for limited government, which later became his presidential campaign. He set up a political consulting here in Texas began fundraising and consulting gubernatorial campaigns and statewide campaigns.

He branched out to other states, U.S. senate and gubernatorial campaigns; Ashcroft is an example of one. Ultimately, he became so effective that he took Texas, which had been a democratically dominated state for decades, and just removed every single elected Democrat from the landscape of this state. To this day the legacy of Karl is we do not have democratic statewide office holder here in Texas today.

One of his former clients is a U.S. senator, K. Billy Hutchison, and Rick Perry is the governor of this state also a former Karl client. He’s been very, very effective and very focused, and at times insidious in his approach to politics.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Karl Rove and Richard Nixon?

JAMES MOORE: Well, there’s a connection that goes back to Donald Sigretti, who is one of the dirty tricksters, Rove and him had a sort of unsubstantiated student, slash, mentor-student relationship.

Rove also conducted dirty tricks as a young guy. For instance, in the senate race in Illinois, he took a candidate’s paperwork and letterhead there and printed phony material on it to come to the candidate’s office and there would be free beer, free booze, and free girls. He distributed these flyers among the homeless. All of a sudden hundreds of homeless people showed up at this candidate’s office and disrupted the fundraiser.

Karl and Atwater also taught classes to young Republican operatives on dirty tricks; which was how to go in and dumpster-dive and get out information from candidates’ headquarters on the candidate, your opposition candidate, and take that information and work with it and create a negative attack. He is a master of the negative attack. He has believed in it forever and ever. He has wielded that particular tactic very effectively through the 20 plus years that I’ve watched him.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk in Bush’s Brain your book about how Karl Rove made George W. Bush presidential. About an early campaign Rove was involved with where supposedly some kind of eavesdropping device was found in Rove’s office.

JAMES MOORE: This I think is perhaps a seminal moment in Karl’s career. He all of a sudden, his candidate is sort of lagging, and he all of a sudden, Karl does, discovers on the wall of his office a bugging device. He discovers it and calls a news conference the morning of the only debate in the gubernatorial race of 1986 between Mark White, who was the incumbent and Karl’s candidate, governor Bill Cleamons who was not a goody debater.

This news covers up all the news about the debate. It leads the television newscast; I was a television reporter at that time. It was all any of us could talk about on the 6:00 and 10:00 news on the night of the debate. The debate became a secondary issue which was good for Karl’s candidate since he was a lousy debater and frequently flew offhand and angered easily, but we weren’t interested in policy and issues. We all were compelled to report on the intrigue around this bugging device.

Now, was it real? No, I don’t think it was. The F.B.I. agents and everyone else who investigated it who spoke to me and I got copies of the investigation which indicated that the battery life on the bugging device indicated that it’s been on the wall for less than an hour, had a six hour battery life that broadcasts only within half mile range.

Whoever planted it did so knowing that they would either have access to go back and change battery every six hours, or they weren’t really interested in broadcasting information in Karl’s office, they were simply interested in having that bug discovered. But it had its desired affect. Ultimately, the campaign turned around, the incumbent’s numbers flagged as a result of the distraction caused by the controversy.

Karl’s Republican candidate won the election, and most of us who were covering Texas gubernatorial politics at that time credited that particular event with turning the election, even though none of us took this seriously.

We all left that news conference that morning almost laughing at Karl for how silly that all looked. History has shown that he was never proved in a court of law because the case was dismissed.

AMY GOODMAN: James Moore, how did Bush jr., how did George W. and Karl Rove set off on the track for George Bush becoming governor of Texas?

JAMES MOORE: That’s a fascinating story, Amy, in fact it wasn’t George W. who decided to do this, it was Karl who decided to have George W. do this. Way back in 1989 Karl was having a discussion in Dallas with a political consultant to whom we spoke and Karl told this consultant, "I can make George W. Bush president if he wants to be. We can run him for governor, use that for a platform, and then use Texas and family connections and business connections and fundraising to make him president, if George wants to do that."

Remember this is 1989; George W. Bush at that point hasn’t even purchased the Texas Rangers. He’s hardly a blip on the national radar. He had worked for his father in the 1980 failed Democratic Caucus, and George H.W. Bush’s failed campaign during that year against Ronald Reagan. He was essentially nonpolitical within his family, and was interested in the energy business and baseball. He was actually sort of planning himself to become a commissioner of baseball, he hoped some day.

Karl Rove brought to him the sort of political planning and genius and strategy and ultimately policies, even holding secret classes to teach W. about government and how government works. Ultimately, W. bought into the whole thing and let Karl run with it knowing that he had the personality and charisma and the sort of dynamics, that were needed to appeal to people as a candidate, and Karl gave him the intellectual half he lacked on his own.

This was something George W. Bush came to reluctantly; Karl ultimately had to talk him into it, and he eventually felt a sense of obligation to his party to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: And from governor to president.

JAMES MOORE: …from governor to President, Karl was completely in control. It slipped away from him briefly in New Hampshire, then what you saw when they left New Hampshire was that there was a conversation that occurred between W. and Carl which essentially was a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, okay, we got our tails kicked in New Hampshire. Let’s go down to South Carolina and you do your thing. And I don’t want to know about it. This is the way this relationship has always existed. Bush has always wanted to be oblivious to Karl’s dirty tricks.

He just likes to win and play the honorable, above board candidate. That’s why in terms of this current leak it’s likely that Bush didn’t know anything about it but Karl was working on it himself; oblivious, the president being oblivious it to.

But in South Carolina, Karl unleashed his sort of campaign style where he simply destroyed the reputation of a hero of this country, senator John McCain, with push-polls suggesting that senator McCain’s wife had a drinking problem, with flyers circulating and push-polls that senator McCain had an illegitimate child, and that senator McCain’s mental stability was questionable from spending too much time in solitary confinement. Ultimately, that stuff spread like a wild fire across South Carolina and George W. Bush handily won that election. Of course, we all know what happened from there.

AMY GOODMAN: Anything else you’d like to add, James Moore, author of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove made George W. Bush presidential, as each new day now brings more developments and actions from the White House in response, finally, to the press coming on board, a couple weeks ago Democracy Now! reported that the F.B.I. had begun asking questions about who blew the cover of the C.I.A. operative.

It was only when all of the White House press corps started demanding answers together on Monday and yesterday the full investigation was announced of the Justice Department.

Karl Rove now on the hot seat, although President Bush has said he has full faith in him, and Scott McClellan the White House press secretary, said he spoke to Karl Rove while not ruling out anyone else he said, Scott McClellan did, that it is not Karl Rove.

JAMES MOORE: I think there are a couple of things to remember, Amy. Not the least of these is that this kind of thing just does not happen in any Bush White House without Karl’s knowledge.

This was without question some sort of, involved Karl in some kind of way. The other important thing to remember is that this is a man who is in control of all things, is determined at all times to be in control of all things, and was almost certainly speaking to Robert Novak about this.

Another important thing I think is that people need to put aside, to the extent possible, politics in all of this because the ultimate fact is, no matter who did it, this was a scurrilous, treasonous act, a CIA operative with two children, who served her country honorably in a dangerous position has been exposed.

Whether it’s a Republican or Democrat who did this, this person needs to be reduced to custody and brought before the bar of justice and tried for exposing this person to danger.

If you’re in the Wilson household, you have to wonder every time the doorbell rings who it is. What’s going on? Is it someone that ambassador Wilson’s wife had somehow worked with overseas? And you also have to demand as a citizen that this not be allowed to happen because who knows how many operatives his wife worked with overseas and what kind of exposure this country now has on weapons of mass destruction as a result of this leak.

Whether it’s a Democrat or Republican, this needs to be dealt with and dealt with quickly so that whoever did it and the wider world gets the message that the United States government will not tolerate this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it doesn’t seem to be hurting George Bush’s fundraising capabilities. Yesterday as Washington was in a fire storm, President Bush was out raising money, breaking fundraising records, including his own, raising $5.3 million for his 2004 presidential run.

JAMES MOORE: It is a bit astonishing that the White House is able to go out in the midst of all this and maintain the level of corporate support while this controversy swirls around them.

I also think it just is indicative of the mercenary nature of the operation which Karl Rove runs, and that is it’s full steam ahead, denial, denial, discredit the people who are attacking you, and continue to operate as though nothing has happened that you can ultimately make these allegations go away.

And the corporate community of this country is still responding to the President because we have a President who does that which is good for business regardless of what is being said about him and his operative, Karl Rove, and whether or not there was a leak out of this office.

Ultimately, this is one of those things that has legs that will not go away and is going to dog them until the truth comes out. What is disturbing is that everyone in political Washington knows how Karl Rove works. There are reporters who took calls from Karl Rove on this. They know it, they’re in a difficult position of not being able to reveal their sources, but eventually this is going to raise a big question for journalism in terms of giving away their sources. Because what is more important, a treasonous act against this country, or protecting a scurrilous source who committed the treasonous act against this country.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also interesting, if a call was made to the reporter as opposed to the reporter asking questions of a senior official, but if a senior administration official made a call and tried to push this story, the outing of Joe Wilson’s wife, the fact is that it was only Robert Novak who first reported this, who decided to bite.

Looks like a number of other reporters saw this for what it was, just retaliation for Joseph Wilson exposing George Bush’s war rationale.

Maybe for one reporter that’s a story in itself. They weren’t asking for an unnamed source. They weren’t asking for some information that they were willing to protect a source on. But a senior administration official going to them and saying, "I want to tell you this", for one reporter, I think that should have been a story in itself.

I’m going to end the story there, because our next guest is waiting in the wings.

James Moore, thank you very much for being with us. Bush’s Brain is the name of your book written with Wayne Slater, How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.


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