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GOP on Offense in Defense of Rove

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By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Republicans mounted an aggressive and coordinated defense of Karl Rove yesterday, contending that the White House's top political adviser did nothing improper or illegal when he discussed a covert CIA official with a reporter.

With a growing number of Democrats calling for Rove's resignation, the Republican National Committee and congressional Republicans sought to discredit Democratic critics and knock down allegations of possible criminal activity.

"The angry left is trying to smear" Rove, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, a Rove protege, said in an interview.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether anyone in the Bush administration unlawfully leaked the name of a CIA official, Valerie Plame, to the news media. Although the White House has previously said Rove was not involved in the episode, a recently disclosed internal Time magazine e-mail shows that Rove mentioned Plame, albeit not by name, to reporter Matthew Cooper before her name and affiliation became public in July 2003. The grand jury is scheduled to hear from Cooper today.

The emerging GOP strategy -- devised by Mehlman and other Rove loyalists outside of the White House -- is to try to undermine those Democrats calling for Rove's ouster, play down Rove's role and wait for President Bush's forthcoming Supreme Court selection to drown out the controversy, according to several high-level Republicans.

The White House said Bush retains full confidence in Rove, but for a second day officials would not answer a barrage of questions about Rove's role in the leak scandal on the grounds that the investigation is not complete. But the RNC -- effectively Bush's political arm -- weighed into the controversy in a major fashion.

Mehlman, who said he talked with Rove several times in recent days, instructed GOP legislators, lobbyists and state officials to accuse Democrats of dirty politics and argue Rove was guilty of nothing more than discouraging a reporter from writing an inaccurate story, according to RNC talking points circulated yesterday.

"Republicans should stop holding back and go on the offense: fire enough bullets the other way until the Supreme Court overtakes" events, said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.).

Rove has not been asked by senior White House officials whether he did anything illegal or potentially embarrassing to the president and he spent most of the day strategizing on Bush's Supreme Court nomination, aides said.

"No one has asked him what he told the grand jury. No one has deemed it appropriate," said a senior White House official, who would discuss the Rove case only on the condition of anonymity. "What you all need to figure out is, does this amount to a crime? That is a legitimate debate." Still, some aides said they were concerned about the unknown. "Is it a communications challenge? Sure," the official said.

Privately, even Rove's staunchest supporters said the situation could explode if federal prosecutors accuse Rove or any other high-level official of committing a crime. William Kristol, a conservative commentator with close White House ties, said it would be hard to imagine a prosecutor conducting an investigation that has landed one reporter in jail and challenged the constitutional rights of the journalism profession without indicting someone. Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald "is the problem for the White House, and we have no idea what he knows," Kristol said.

Bush has said if any White House officials were involved, they would be fired. The president yesterday twice refused to answer questions on whether Rove should be dismissed.


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