Analysis: Rove Flap Gives Dems Ammo

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 14, 2007; 8:18 PM

WASHINGTON -- The fight over documents has gone to red alert. The White House acknowledges it cannot find four years' worth of e-mails from chief political strategist Karl Rove. The admission has thrust the Democrats' nemesis back into the center of attention and poses a fresh political challenge for President Bush.

The administration has acknowledged that some e-mails missing from Rove's Republican party account may relate to the firing of eight U.S. prosecutors last year. The Democratic-run Congress is investigating whether the firings resulted from political pressure by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the White House.

For Democrats, the missing Rove e-mails is one more chance to pound away at their favorite target, the architect of Bush's 2000 and 2004 presidential victories and all-around White House political fixer.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has compared the missing e-mails to the 18-minute gap on President Nixon's Watergate tapes. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the White House message to Congress is: "We are stonewalling."

The White House chalks it up to just another outbreak of Democratic Rove rage. "My experience has been that any time Karl Rove's name is mentioned, it adds to the ammunition, regardless of merit," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

Only Dick Cheney raises the same kind of anger _ and there is not much they can do about the vice president, short of impeachment.

The Rove connection is sure to be raised when Gonzales testifies Tuesday before Leahy's committee. His appearance, Democratic and Republican lawmakers say, may determine whether the longtime Bush friend can hold onto his job.

Democrats plan to focus on the Justice Department's contradictory statements about the firings and Gonzales' shifting explanations of his own role.

Democrats now are seeking Rove's sworn public testimony in their investigation of dismissed U.S. attorneys. So far, the White House has agreed only to off-the-record interviews for Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers with committee members.

Department documents turned over to Congress suggested that Rove and Miers had an early role in planning the firings, despite initial White House statements to the contrary.

Democrats have threatened to issue subpoenas. But, due to the constitutional separation of executive and legislative powers, it is not clear they can force Rove to testify.

"He's been a pet symbol to Democrats," said Fred Greenstein, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University. "It's clear that he is very important to Bush and that the president takes him very seriously, even if the 2008 election outcome would be totally unaffected by dropping Rove."

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