Rove Avoids Indictment, Keeps Focus on Job

By JENNIFER LOVEN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 14, 2006; 10:49 AM

WASHINGTON -- The unimaginable did not happen, and few breathed any easier than President Bush.

Karl Rove escaped being charged in the CIA leak case, ensuring that Bush will retain the everyday counsel of the shrewd and trusted aide who helped create his political persona, steer him into the Oval Office and mastermind his White House tenure.

Now free of personal legal jeopardy _ although he still may have to testify at a trial _ the president's all-around uber-aide can focus on trying to prevent Democrats from capturing the House or Senate.

Rove has been praised by Bush as the "The Architect" and "Boy Genius." The president's critics refer to Rove derisively as "Bush's Brain." Marshall Wittman, a former conservative activist who now works for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, once summed up Rove as the president's "political Svengali, Robespierre and wizard all rolled into one."

Whichever he is, Rove has operated under a cloud and in legal limbo since October, when he was identified as Official A in the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Libby was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the 2003 leak of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.

All these months, Rove and the White House cultivated the image of him going about the president's business unfazed by the uncertainty over whether he would be indicted and forced to relinquish his powerful post.

Rove has been hamming it up for cameras, cracking jokes and letting it be known he was undaunted in his job. The only outward sign of change was the slimmer waistline that had speculation going in both directions _ he shed pounds out of anxiety, or from confidence.

On Wednesday, two days after Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald informed Rove attorney Robert Luskin that there would be no charges, Bush praised the investigator's decision: "I, obviously along with others in the White House, took a sigh of relief when he made the decision he made."

The White House still remains under the cloud of the CIA leak investigation. Cheney and Rove, along with other past and present administration aides, have been identified as possible witnesses when Libby goes on trial, probably in January. They could face grilling by Fitzgerald on whether Plame's identity was leaked to retaliate against a political critic, Plame's husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, Dean said Rove doesn't belong in the White House, no matter what. "It's not very good news for America," Dean said Tuesday on NBC-TV's "Today" show.

Several Republican insiders argued it was good news for an administration that has seen little lately, perhaps giving a small number of voters a better feeling about the Bush White House amid fears of a Washington culture of corruption.

But, said longtime GOP operative Ron Kaufman, `I don't think it's as big a deal as you all make it out to be, to the White House internally, because deep down they always believed this. They always had a confidence that it would end up ending this way."

Republican strategist Charles Black also disputed the conventional inside-the-Beltway wisdom that Rove's shoes could not be filled if he had been indicted and forced to resign, even while acknowledging it might have taken three people to do so.

To be sure, no one possesses the combination of qualities that has turned Rove into one of this city's most influential figures: his skills as a ruthless political warrior honed in Bush's home state, an almost encyclopedic command of political minutiae made more potent by a wonkish love of policy, and his three decades-long association with Bush.

Rove met Bush in the early 1970s, when both men were in their 20s _ Bush is four years older _ and Rove was a special assistant to Bush's father, then chairman of the Republican National Committee.

On board from the beginning of Bush's political career, Rove is most known for helping prep Bush to run for governor of Texas and the presidency and for engineering four back-to-back election victories.

Once inside the White House, Rove grew into a right-hand man. He made sure special interest groups and political insiders, particularly conservatives, were happy. He schmoozed recalcitrant members of Congress. He kept a close eye on major policy debates.

After Bush won a second term, the president rewarded Rove with the deputy chief of staff title, giving him day-to-day command of policy coordination in addition to his senior adviser tag and top political role. Time magazine made him runner-up to the president as its 2004 Person of the Year.

In April, Bolten stripped Rove of those policy duties, part of a broader effort to rescue Bush's presidency from low poll ratings and lackluster legislative success in Congress. The move was seen less as a reduction in Rove's influence than as refocusing him on his area of expertise _ mapping the details of a strategy for Republicans to win in the November midterm elections.

Rove has been no stranger to controversy, with Democrats questioning his ethics even before the Plame case. But it was not until Fitzgerald's investigation into whether a crime was committed in revealing Plame's name that there were serious questions about Rove's survival. Bush himself made it clear those questions are no more.

On his way back to Washington from Baghdad Tuesday, said simply: "It's a chapter that has ended."

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