WASHINGTON — It is an open question whether Karl Rove, deputy White House chief of staff, will keep out of jail, given the flood of evidence that he broke the law in identifying covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. But backstabbing and dirty tricks have been Rove’s weapons of choice in Texas for 35 years, according to people who have followed his career in the Lone Star State.
They cite his success in smear campaigns that drove from office popular Texas politicians like Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, Gov. Ann Richards and Rep. Lloyd Doggett. He replaced them with hard-line, ultra-right Republicans and transformed the state into a stronghold of rabid right-wing Republicanism.
“Rove really is the architect of a dominant Republican Party in Texas,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice. “He did it in two ways. He mobilized an unbelievable amount of corporate cash. And he used a bunch of dirty tricks to back his candidates.”
Rove’s role in leaking Plame’s CIA connection “is consistent with the way he has operated for years in Texas,” McDonald told the World in a telephone interview from his Austin office. “Rove believes that it is necessary to smite his enemies, knock them down and make sure they don’t get up again.” It is a “mean-spirited” mentality, he said.
The Bush-Cheney administration was enraged that Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, had gone to Niger before the Iraq war to look into a possible uranium purchase by Iraq, and had reported that there was no evidence of such a deal. Then, in a New York Times op-ed, he blasted Bush for lying to the people in citing the uranium deal to justify the invasion of Iraq. Shortly afterward, his wife’s identity was leaked to the media. It was widely seen as an effort both to discredit Wilson and damage his family.
President Bush, who vowed to fire anyone who leaked Plame’s identity, has shifted ground, promising that the leaker will be fired only if a “law was broken.” “Outing” a covert agent was made a crime under the Reagan administration.
Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper writes that it was Rove who told him Wilson’s wife was a CIA undercover agent, without using her name. Rove added that she worked on “WMD issues” and claimed she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. “This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson’s wife.”
“Bush’s Brain,” a political biography of Rove by Dallas Morning News reporters James Moore and Wayne Slater, reveals that Rove’s political skullduggery dates back to 1970 and was an important factor in the ultra-right’s rise to power in the U.S.
Rove was a Young Americans for Freedom operative working for the GOP in Illinois that year. Posing as a Democrat, he infiltrated Alan Dixon’s campaign headquarters in Chicago a few days before its official opening. Dixon was a Democratic candidate for state treasurer who later served in the U.S. Senate.
Rove stole campaign letterhead and made up a fake invitation to the Dixon opening with promises of “free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing.” He distributed 1,000 copies at soup kitchens. Hundreds showed up. Richard Nixon’s chief dirty trickster, Donald Segretti, went to jail for similar acts in the Watergate scandal.
In 1972, Rove was executive director of College Republicans. He and an accomplice, Bernie Robinson, organized 15 conferences to train youth how to campaign for Nixon’s re-election. Moore and Slater write that Rove “could not resist instructing his young audiences on dirty tricks — pranks, he called them.”
At an August 1972 seminar in Lexington, Ky., Rove, “with considerable delight talked about campaign espionage, about digging through an opponent’s garbage,” Moore and Slater write. “This was the summer of the Watergate break-in, with the first revelations of a scandal that unraveled the Nixon presidency.” Rove and Robinson “even specifically mentioned the Watergate break-in in their seminars, not as a reason to avoid campaign espionage, but as a caution to keep it secret.”
Decades later, Rove, chief strategist of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, destroyed Bush’s main Republican challenger, Arizona Sen. John McCain, by leaking a racist falsehood that McCain had fathered an “illegitimate Black child.”
When Bush and Cheney saw their lead disappearing in Florida in the post-election battle, Rove recruited 250 goons to terrorize election officials to halt the vote count.
“Documents released to the IRS 19 months after the election show that the Bush team spent over a million dollars to fly operatives into Florida and another million to pay their hotel bills. The effort also relied on a fleet of corporate jets owned by people like Enron chairman Kenneth Lay … and Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney had served as CEO. … Karl Rove, working with James A. Baker III, put it all together.”
Now Rove is the power behind the throne in Washington. Moore and Slater call him “co-president.”
But marching outside the White House last week were demonstrators with signs reading, “Bush, keep your promise: Fire Karl Rove.”