By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 10, 2005
A staff attorney with the Texas secretary of state said yesterday that she was fired this week for violating press protocols when she spoke to a Washington Post reporter who was working on a story about presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Elizabeth Reyes, 30, of Austin said she was fired Tuesday after she was quoted in a Post story that ran Sept. 3 about tax deductions on Rove's homes in the District and in Texas.
Scott Haywood, a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, confirmed yesterday that Reyes is no longer employed, but he declined to provide details, saying it was a personnel matter. Haywood had said late last Saturday that Reyes "was not authorized to speak on behalf of the agency."
The Post's story reported that Rove inadvertently received a District homestead tax deduction on his Palisades home, even though he had not been eligible for the benefit for more than three years. Rove was eligible for the deduction when he bought the home in 2001, the story said, but a change in the tax law in 2002 made the deduction available only to District property owners who do not vote elsewhere. Rove is registered to vote in Texas.
The District's Office of Tax and Revenue accepted blame for the mistake in a letter to Rove, expressing regret that it had failed to rescind the deduction. Rove agreed to reimburse the city an estimated $3,400 in back taxes, and a White House spokeswoman said it had been an innocent misunderstanding.
Rove is registered to vote in Kerr County, Tex., the story reported, and he and his wife own two small rental cottages there that Rove claims as his residence. But two local residents said they had never seen Rove there.
When Post reporter Lori Montgomery telephoned the press office of the Texas secretary of state, the press officer was on vacation, and Montgomery was transferred to Reyes. The attorney, who spoke in two separate telephone calls, told Montgomery that it was potential voter fraud in Texas to register in a place where you don't actually live, and she was quoted as saying Rove's cottages don't "sound like a residence to me, because it's not a fixed place of habitation."
Reyes said yesterday that she was not aware that she was talking to a reporter, that she was not aware the discussion was about Rove, and that she had explained in the interviews that an individual's intent to return to Texas is a primary factor in qualifying for residency.
In response to The Post's story, Haywood called the paper to say that Rove could register to vote in Texas as long as he intended to return.
Today, The Post ran a correction stating that Reyes had not been asked about Rove by name and that the story should have mentioned Reyes's explanation about the intent to return.
Robert J. McCartney, the paper's assistant managing editor for local news, said, "Montgomery, in both conversations with Reyes, identified herself as working for The Post." He also said that although Montgomery didn't mention Rove by name, she told Reyes in the second interview that the inquiries were about a presidential adviser who had moved from Texas to Washington.
Reyes said yesterday that she was summoned to a superior's office Tuesday and told that the office was upset about the Post article. "I didn't even know an article had been written," she said. Reyes said she explained what had happened and later was called back to the supervisor's office and told she was fired. "I was in complete shock," she said. "I said, 'Well, why?' They said I violated the press policy."
While she didn't know she was talking to a reporter, Reyes said, the press policy doesn't bar her from speaking with the media.
"The policy allows us to talk to members of the media," she said. "The policy says if it's a controversial issue or a special issue, it needs to be forwarded on to someone else. Just talking to the media doesn't violate it, as I read it. . . . Karl Rove didn't come up. It wasn't something you could classify as controversial."
She said she sent a certified letter yesterday asking that the matter be reconsidered.