An Up-and-Comer Up and Leaves for PR Job in Kentucky

By Peter Baker
Monday, October 8, 2007

The revolving door at the White House continues with the departure of J. Scott Jennings, who is following his mentor and former boss, Karl Rove, out of the fishbowl. Jennings, the deputy White House political director, left Friday to head home to Kentucky, where he will join Peritus Public Relations.

Jennings was well regarded within the White House but came under fire for delivering private PowerPoint briefings on Republican election prospects at federal agencies where partisan activities are highly restricted. Among those Jennings briefed on congressional campaigns were diplomats and officials at the Peace Corps. The Office of Special Counsel is looking into the propriety of those briefings.

The sessions were part of a broader "asset deployment" strategy devised by Rove to fully utilize the power of incumbency on behalf of the president's reelection campaign and congressional Republican allies, including meticulously planned official announcements, high-profile trips and declarations of federal grants, all coordinated with the White House political affairs office. Democratic lawmakers are investigating, but the White House defends its actions as completely legal. The Jennings briefings, it has said, were simply informational presentations to other political appointees.

Congressional investigators have also sought Jennings's testimony on the firings of U.S. attorneys stemming from his involvement in the appointment of another former Rove aide, Tim Griffin, to replace Bud Cummins as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Jennings's use of a Republican National Committee e-mail account to discuss the appointment has also drawn scrutiny. He cited executive privilege in declining to answer questions before a Senate committee in August.

Rove and others see Jennings as an up-and-comer. Before coming to the White House, Jennings, 29, was political director for three successful campaigns in Kentucky -- George W. Bush's first presidential bid in 2000, Sen. Mitch McConnell's reelection in 2002 and Gov. Ernie Fletcher's campaign in 2003. In 2004, Jennings headed Bush's operation in New Mexico, one of only two states that flipped from Democrat to Republican. "He's a very able guy and has got great judgment and great political skills," Rove said in an interview.

They're All Good Sports

Jennings is not the only one thinking about life after the White House.

Jenna Bush told CNN's Larry King last week that her father, former co-owner of the Texas Rangers, would love becoming baseball commissioner after he leaves office. "Yes, Dad would go for that, if he's watching," she said.

So let's see, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to be NFL commissioner. Who's up for the NBA and NHL?

If Vice President Cheney doesn't want to run for the Oval Office, we hear he has a mean cross-check.

Planning Strategies and Weddings

And speaking of transitions, West Wingers tomorrow welcome Paul Lettow to the fold. Lettow arrives fresh from the office of Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky to take over as the National Security Council's senior director for strategic planning. But his new colleagues have another reason to congratulate Lettow: he just got engaged to another White House veteran, Assistant Secretary of State Kristin Silverberg.

The two crazy kids met at, yes, an event on Burma at the Czech Embassy. Look for a May wedding in Texas. (Must be something about that job. Lettow's predecessor, William C. Inboden III, married a State Department official while serving at the NSC.)

Determined to Weigh In on War

Who says President Bush doesn't take tough questions? Real estate agent Gerry Beane had a friend get in line at 4 a.m. one day last week to make sure he got into a first-come, first-served event at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Lancaster, Pa. And then he managed to get Bush's attention to ask the first question, challenging him on the Iraq war. "We need to bring our soldiers home," Beane told the president.

Bush was undeterred and drew applause when he cited worries about the consequences of troop withdrawal. "I don't want our troops feeling like I'm making decisions based on politics when lives are at stake," he said, adding that the war in Iraq is part of a grand ideological struggle between forces of "rational behavior" and "radicals."

Beane later dismissed Bush's answer as no more than "stay the course," our colleague Michael A. Fletcher reports. "I would like to think that we had a president who would respond to the wishes of the American people," said Beane, a self-described liberal Democrat. He added: "But we have a president who is not always right but he's never in doubt. You gotta give him that."

Beane was not done with Bush, though. As the president shook hands along a rope line after his talk, Beane waited along with Sherry Wolfe, who was wearing a pink T-shirt that read, "George Bush Your War Killed My Friend's Son."

Beane handed a letter to a Bush aide. The letter was from William A. Adams III, whose son Brent, a National Guardsman, was killed in Iraq in 2005. In the letter, Adams asked Bush "one father to another" to help him determine the true circumstances of his son's death. The president promised to read it.

Quote of the Week I

"I really appreciate the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce for giving me an opportunity to explain why I have made some of the decisions I have made. My job is a decision-making job. And as a result, I make a lot of decisions. And it's important for me to have an opportunity to speak to you and others who would be listening about the basis on which I have made decisions, to explain the philosophy behind some of the decisions I have made."

-- President Bush, a.k.a. "The Decider."

Quote of the Week II

"I think my dad would say the pro is that he wouldn't have to get a tent."

-- Jenna Bush, asked by Larry King to discuss the pros and cons of having her wedding at the White House.

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