Report Details Bush Officials' Partisan Trips

John Walters, the White House's director of drug policy, attended 19 events suggested by Karl Rove's office to help GOP candidates in 2006.
John Walters, the White House's director of drug policy, attended 19 events suggested by Karl Rove's office to help GOP candidates in 2006. (John Vizcaino - Reuters)
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Karl Rove's office requested special help for beleaguered Republican congressional candidates in the months before the 2006 elections, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy jumped to the task. Director John Walters was called a "superstar" by a Rove aide after carrying half-million-dollar grants to news conferences with two congressmen and a senator.

Walters's visits to Utah, Missouri and Nevada were among at least 303 out-of-town trips by senior Bush appointees meant to lend prestige or bring federal grants to 99 politically endangered Republicans that year, in a White House campaign that House Democratic investigators yesterday called unprecedented in scope and scale.

Federal law prohibits the use of public funds or resources for partisan activities -- and specifically barred Walters's office from any involvement in a federal election campaign -- but the agencies involved said most of the trips were paid for by taxpayer funds, according to the draft report released by the Democratic majority of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The report said that since the Rove aide and many others involved in organizing the trips are no longer in office, "there is no effective remedy" for any related violations of the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts the use of public funds for partisan gain.

The report said the trips were freely described as political in subpoenaed e-mails and interviews. A list prepared at the White House two weeks before the election gave the names and dates of appearances by Cabinet secretaries in 73 key congressional districts, all under the heading "Final Push Surrogate Matrix."

"This is," the report said, "a gross abuse of the public trust."

The existence of the White House effort to turn federal officials into instruments of the 2006 Republican campaign effort is already well known. But the House report, based on a review of more than 63,000 pages of internal documents, includes fresh details about which Cabinet members participated and who benefited.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), makes clear in the report that Bush is hardly the first president to squeeze reelection support from the federal bureaucracy. It notes that one of President Bill Clinton's White House aides met with Cabinet secretaries and other senior appointees to brief them on tough races before the 1994 election.

The House committee probed the Clinton effort in the 1990s at the behest of its then-Republican chairman, but it "received no evidence of practices . . . resembling the coordinated and comprehensive strategy the Bush White House employed to use taxpayer resources to support Republican candidates for office," the report states.

The committee's senior Republican, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), disputed this statement, however. "The same kind of things [were] done by every administration since Eisenhower," he said, and he compared the Democrats' "angry swooning" to the scene in "Casablanca" when the police captain feigns shock at finding gambling in Humphrey Bogart's nightclub. Not since then, he said, has "righteous indignation seemed quite so contrived."

In a separate report four times longer than the Democrats', Davis and his Republican colleagues said that in a few cases, Democratic politicians appeared at events tallied by Waxman's staff as partisan. They also said some trips occurred at lawmakers' request, not merely at White House insistence.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said in a statement that the Democratic report was merely "an attempt to score political points."

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