Karl Rove's Coaching Session

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, May 4, 2007; 1:50 PM

Back on March 5, several top Justice Department officials were summoned for an emergency meeting at the White House. On the agenda: Going over "what we are going to say" about why eight U.S. attorneys had been summarily fired.

The reason for the urgency: principal associate deputy attorney general William Moschella was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee the next day.

Deputy White House counsel William Kelley sent an e-mail over to Justice early in the afternoon, saying that he had "been tasked" with pulling the meeting together, and that "we have to get this group together with some folks here asap."

The meeting was held at the White House later that day. And who did Kelley mean by "some folks here"? Well, among others, Karl Rove -- the White House's chief political operative, and the man who may very well have set the unprecedented dismissals in motion in the first place.

But after the coaching session, Moschella went out and told Congress that there was no significant White House involvement in the firings, as far as he knew.

Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek: "Now some investigators are saying that Rove's attendance at the meeting shows that the president's chief political advisor may have been involved in an attempt to mislead Congress -- one more reason they are demanding to see his emails and force him to testify under oath. . . .

"Although the existence of the White House meeting had been previously disclosed by the Justice Department, Rove's attendance at the strategy session was not -- until both Moschella and deputy attorney general Paul McNulty talked about it in confidential testimony with congressional investigators last week. . . .

"According to McNulty's account, Rove came late to the meeting and left early. But while he was there he spoke up and echoed a point that was made by the other White House aides: The Justice Department needed to provide specific reasons why it terminated the eight prosecutors in order to rebut Democratic charges that the firings were politically motivated. The point Rove and other White House officials made is 'you all need to explain what you did and why you did it,' McNulty told the investigators.

"The problem, according to the Democratic aide, is that Rove and Kelley never told Moschella about the White House's own role in pushing to have some U.S. attorneys fired in the first place. Moschella followed the coaching by Rove and others -- and made no mention of White House involvement in the firings during his March 6, 2007 testimony to House Judiciary. 'They let Moschella come up here without telling him the full story,' said the Democratic staffer."

The White House response to the news? "'It's perfectly natural that he would be there,' said deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. Asked specifically whether Rove had withheld pertinent information to Moschella, and therefore participated in an attempt to mislead Congress, Fratto replied: 'The White House's role was very limited. I'm not commenting about any meetings."

Blogger Josh Marshall writes: "Remind me. Why do you need to 'agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired' if the reasons were actually clear when you did the firing and if the reasons can be stated publicly? Think about it. Why do Rove and the other heavies from the White House need to tell these guys how important it is to get their stories straight? If I fire someone, I know why I fired them. I don't need to get my story straight unless the real reason can't be stated and I need to come up with a defensible and plausible alternative explanation."

There has already been some indication that administration officials were trying to avoid transparency on the matter. Indeed, it was that very same day, March 5, that Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos sent an e-mail to White House aides explaining one aspect of her communication plan: "We are trying to muddy the coverage up a bit by trying to put the focus on the process in which they were told."


CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company