Rove's Future Role Is Debated

The president's closest adviser, Karl Rove, remains under investigation.
The president's closest adviser, Karl Rove, remains under investigation. (By Jason Reed -- Reuters)

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By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 3, 2005

Top White House aides are privately discussing the future of Karl Rove, with some expressing doubt that President Bush can move beyond the damaging CIA leak case as long as his closest political strategist remains in the administration.

If Rove stays, which colleagues say remains his intention, he may at a minimum have to issue a formal apology for misleading colleagues and the public about his role in conversations that led to the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame, according to senior Republican sources familiar with White House deliberations.

While Rove faces doubts about his White House status, there are new indications that he remains in legal jeopardy from Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's criminal investigation of the Plame leak. The prosecutor spoke this week with an attorney for Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper about his client's conversations with Rove before and after Plame's identity became publicly known because of anonymous disclosures by White House officials, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.

Fitzgerald is considering charging Rove with making false statements in the course of the 22-month probe, and sources close to Rove -- who holds the titles of senior adviser and White House deputy chief of staff -- said they expect to know within weeks whether the most powerful aide in the White House will be accused of a crime.

But some top Republicans said yesterday that Rove's problems may not end there. Bush's top advisers are considering whether it is tenable for Rove to remain on the staff, given that Fitzgerald has already documented something that Rove and White House official spokesmen once emphatically denied -- that he played a central role in discussions with journalists about Plame's role at the CIA and her marriage to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Iraq war.

"Karl does not have any real enemies in the White House, but there are a lot of people in the White House wondering how they can put this behind them if the cloud remains over Karl," said a GOP strategist who has discussed the issue with top White House officials. "You can not have that [fresh] start as long as Karl is there."

A swift resolution is needed in part to ease staff tension, a number of people inside and out of the White House said. Many mid-level staffers inside have expressed frustration that press secretary Scott McClellan's credibility was undermined by Rove, who told the spokesman that he was not involved in the leak, according to people familiar with the case.

Some aides said Rove told Bush the same thing, though little is known about the precise nature of the president's conversations with his closest political adviser.

McClellan relayed Rove's denial to reporters from the White House lectern in 2003, and he has not yet offered a public explanation for his inaccurate statements. "That is affecting everybody," said a Republican who has discussed the issue with the White House. "Scott personally is really beaten down by this. Everybody I talked to talks about this."

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, will be arraigned today on five counts, involving three felony charges, in the leak probe. Libby also told McClellan two years ago he was not involved, a denial that was also relayed to the public.

White House communications director Nicolle Wallace said that there have not been any White House meetings to discuss Rove's fate, and that the senior adviser is actively engaged and "doing an outstanding job." She said "there is no debate" over Rove's future.

Rove has long been regarded as the most influential and feared Bush aide and has enjoyed the fervent backing of the president and influential conservatives. Republicans with firsthand knowledge of the private talks about Rove's political problems said there have been informal discussions involving people inside and outside the White House, and that they reflected the views of a large number of administration officials who are concerned about Bush's efforts to start anew in 2006 with as little interference from the scandal as possible.


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