Tuesday, April 24, 2007

LA Times: Office of Special Counsel To Probe Rove

Messr Rove has bigger problems than Sheryl Crow and Laurie David:

The Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress. Second, unlike the splintered inquiries being pressed on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be a unified investigation covering many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part.

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Bloch declined to comment on who his investigators would interview, but he said the probe would be independent and uncoordinated with any other agency or government entity.

The decision by Bloch's office is the latest evidence that Rove's once-vaunted operations inside the government, which helped the GOP hold the White House and Congress for six years, now threaten to mire the administration in investigations.

The crux of the investigation will be improper political influence over government decision-making.

Any closer watcher of the administration knows that EVERYTHING they do is designed to help the Republican Party become the majority party.

And guess who was behind all this?

A former Interior Department official, Wayne R. Smith, who sat through briefings from Rove and his then-deputy Ken Mehlman, said that during President Bush's first term, he and other appointees were frequently briefed on political priorities.

"We were constantly being reminded about how our decisions could affect electoral results," Smith said.

"This is a big deal," Paul C. Light, a New York University expert on the executive branch, said of Bloch's plan. "It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove. It speaks to the growing sense that there is a nexus at the White House that explains what's going on in these disparate investigations."
Finally, here's why the Office of Special Counsel is launching the investigation:

The 106-person Office of Special Counsel has never conducted such a broad and high-profile inquiry in its history. One of its primary missions has been to enforce the Hatch Act, a law enacted in 1939 to preserve the integrity of the civil service.

Bloch said the new investigation grew from two narrower inquiries his staff had begun in recent weeks.

One involved the fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico, David C. Iglesias.

The other centered on a PowerPoint presentation that a Rove aide, J. Scott Jennings, made at the General Services Administration this year.

That presentation listed recent polls and the outlook for battleground House and Senate races in 2008. After the presentation, GSA Administrator Lorita Doan encouraged agency managers to "support our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. Doan said she could not recall making such comments.

The Los Angeles Times has learned that similar presentations were made by other White House staff members, including Rove, to other Cabinet agencies. During such presentations, employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans.


Whether legal or not, the multiple presentations revealed how widely and systematically the White House sought to deliver its list of electoral priorities.

In the course of investigating the U.S. attorney matter and the PowerPoint presentations, Democratic congressional investigators discovered e-mails written by White House personnel using accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee.

For example, they discovered that Jennings, a special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs in the White House, was using an e-mail with the domain name of "gwb43.com" that the RNC maintained.

That domain name showed up in e-mail communications from Jennings about how to replace U.S. Atty. H.E. "Bud" Cummins III of Arkansas to make room for Timothy Griffin, a Rove protege, in such a way as to "alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out."

Another Jennings e-mail using the RNC account requested that department officials meet with a former New Mexico campaign advisor who wanted to "discuss the U.S. Atty situation there."

The growing controversy inspired him to act, Bloch said.

"We are acting with dispatch and trying to deal with this because people are concerned about it … and it is not a subject that should be left to endless speculation," he said.

This is a pretty big deal.

The noose is tightening on Rove.

He may still squirm out of it, and indeed history tells us he probably will, but his escape just got a little harder.

UPDATE: Mike at Crest thinks this is nothing. From watching the coverage of the story on the cable networks, I see that Mike isn't the only one. But David Shuster said on Hardball tonight that the problem for the WH on this story is that while it looks like "small potatoes" now, you never know what the investigation will turn up and it has the potential to create a "drip, drip" of negative stories that builds to something.

Regardless, this is one more problem for a White House already under siege from oversight investigations and subpoenas. So even if that's all this investigation is, it's not good for Rove and Company.

SECOND UPDATE: Fired U.S. attorney from New Mexico David Iglesias doesn't think there's nothing to the Office of Special Counsel investigation into Karl Rove and the WH.

He just phoned into Hardball and told Chris Matthews that it is most likely his complaint that got the ball rolling on the investigation into Rove.

Igleisas said he believes Rove was behind his firing because he would not pull the trigger on investigations against Democrats at politically expedient times for the GOP.

He was very forthright - he said he voted for Bush in both '00 and '00 and said he is a good Republican, but also believes that the position of prosecutor should be politics-free (as he said former A.G. John Ashcroft told him it should be when he was sworn into his position.)

Iglesias said he wants to get to the bottom of why he and the six other prosecutors fired in the Purge were let go and he believes the Office of Special Counsel will be able to do it.

He believes Monica Goodling is the link between the DOJ and whoever in the WH was pulling strings in the Purge. He wants to see her questioned under oath about what she knows in the matter.

Goodling, of course, has not testified because she preferred to take the fifth rather than incriminate herself before the Congress.

Maybe there's something to this investigation after all?

I'd love to see her questioned, too. Whatever happened to the proposed immunity deal, btw?
I just heard the bulletin on NPR -- this morning, Goodling was granted immunity over the objections of several Republicans, and can now be forced to choose between testifying truthfully or going to prison.

With her background, one would think she might have encountered "Thou shall not bear false witness" somewhere along the way, and I don't remember there being any "..except to protect your boss" exception. Maybe she slept through that day's lecture.
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