Karl Rove sets the record straight -- sort of

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, March 7, 2010; A13

As a White House reporter during the Bush presidency, I often worried that I wasn't getting the whole story. Now, Karl Rove has finally given it to me.

His new book, "Courage and Consequence," promises to "pull back the curtain on my journey to the White House and my years there." What he divulges nearly made me choke on a pretzel.

That business about President George W. Bush misleading the nation about Iraq? Didn't happen. "Did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not," Rove writes.

Condoning torture? Wrong! "The president never authorized torture. He did just the opposite."

Foot-dragging on global warming? Au contraire. "He was aggressive and smart on this front."

You thought Bush was responsible for turning a budget surplus into a record deficit and nearly doubling the national debt? That he was in charge when the economy plunged into the worst collapse since the Great Depression? Guess again. Spending was "far below average" under Bush, who led the nation through "the longest period of economic growth since President Reagan."

Even Bush's televised claim that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Michael "Brownie" Brown was doing a "heckuva" job after Hurricane Katrina wasn't what our lying ears told us it was. "Bush was responding to compliments others had offered to Brown."

Heckuva job, Architect. In fact, these new disclosures call for a correction of some of my past reporting:


Every article about George W. Bush ever written by Dana Milbank was wrong. The Post regrets the error.


Rove's book is 600 pages thick, the work of a man with a lot of scores to settle. But it deserves a better title. In the model of Karen Hughes's memoir, "Ten Minutes from Normal," Rove's work should be called "Ten Thousand Miles from Self-Aware."

Rove has had 2 1/2 years to reflect on what turned Bush into the least popular president in modern history. Yet Bush's Brain is still in the war room.

His lessons learned are those of a job applicant who claims that his greatest weakness is being too conscientious. He doesn't regret the Iraq war; he regrets that he did not attack the war's critics more fiercely. He doesn't regret the administration's bungling of the Katrina response; he regrets the lack of Republican leadership in Louisiana.

Rove offers an occasional nod to reality, such as his doubt that the Iraq war would have been waged if it had been known that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately for Rove's credibility, however, he revives claims discredited long ago.

He describes at length how Clinton staffers "trashed" the White House, though investigators were "unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones." He says it was a "dangerous falsehood" that administration officials "claimed Iraq had been behind 9/11," so he must have forgotten Dick Cheney calling Iraq "the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

The historical rewrite goes back to the 2000 primary campaign. Rove recalls how a veteran introduced Bush at an event in South Carolina with a "deeply unfair" attack on John McCain for abandoning veterans. Rove reports that "McCain rejected Bush's apology as inadequate." But accounts at the time said Bush neither apologized nor disavowed the slander.

Remember the ad attacking Al Gore in which the word "RATS" appeared subliminally? "Our defense was the truth -- we thought it was an accident." The belief that Cheney, as head of Bush's vice-presidential search, engineered his own selection? "Far-fetched." But Rove didn't find it far-fetched to blame a Gore aide for leaking word of Bush's DUI.

The revelations continue in the area of domestic policy (Bush's education law, now being rewritten, was "one of the great modern domestic policy successes") and national security (Bush kept reading "My Pet Goat" after being told of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, because he "wanted to project calm").

Rove's impressive recall mysteriously breaks down when he discusses his near-indictment in the Valerie Plame scandal. He has "no recollection" of discussing the matter with Time's Matt Cooper, and he claims he never told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that the CIA's Plame was "fair game." He alleges he was "misled" by conservative commentator Bob Novak, saying, "I didn't know or think I was his second source" on the outing of Plame.

If Bob were still alive, he'd no doubt be rushing out a correction, too.


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