August 13, 2007
Karl Rove, Top Strategist, Is Leaving the White House
By JIM RUTENBERG and STEVEN LEE MYERS
WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 — Karl Rove, the political adviser who masterminded President George W. Bush’s two winning presidential campaigns and secured his own place in history as a political strategist with extraordinary influence within the White House, announced on Monday that he would resign at the end of the month.
In an unusually emotional appearance with President Bush on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Rove cited a desire to “start thinking about the next chapter in our family’s life.” His decision was also forced when the White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, recently told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day he would expect them to stay through the remaining 17 months of Mr. Bush’s term.
Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush, who said they had known “each other as youngsters” interested in politics, first discussed his departure last summer, Mr. Rove said, his voice breaking at times. Instead he stayed on, through the midterm elections last fall, which put Democrats in control of Congress and tempered Mr. Rove’s reputation as a political genius who had ushered in an enduring Republican majority.
“It always seemed there was a better time to leave out there in the future,” Mr. Rove said, “but now is the time.”
His standing had already diminished considerably. Since the midterm elections, Mr. Bush’s political problems have mounted in Iraq, his pursuit of a new immigration policy failed in Congress and the White House has had to defend its actions in the dismissals of United States attorneys, among other issues. Mr. Rove, 56, survived an investigation into the leak of the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative only to face a flurry of subpoenas from Democratic-controlled committees on Capitol Hill that he has so far rebuffed, citing executive privilege.
To his critics, and there are many, Mr. Rove embodied the Bush administration’s mode of politics: aggressive, combative, secretive. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said that the Congressional investigations swirling around Mr. Rove and others in the White House would continue, regardless of his resignation.
“Mr. Rove’s apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes,” Senator Leahy said in a statement.
“There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm,” Mr. Leahy said.
Mr. Rove announced his departure in an interview published on Monday morning in The Wall Street Journal that served as a spirited defense of the Bush presidency, despite its current woes. He predicted that Mr. Bush’s approval ratings would rise again, that Iraq would “be in a better place” and, perhaps most significant for his own legacy, that a Republican candidate had “a very good chance” to win the 2008 election because the Democrats would nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The White House did not say early Monday whether Mr. Bolten would name a successor to Mr. Rove, who held a “deputy chief of staff” title.
But even if he does, none would have the same influence with the president or, likely, the same encyclopedic knowledge of American politics.
With his departure, Mr. Rove will be the latest major figure to leave the Bush administration’s inner circle. Earlier this summer, Mr. Bush lost as his counsel Dan Bartlett, a fellow Texan who had been part of the original group of close advisers that followed Mr. Bush from the Texas governor’s mansion to the White House.
Mr. Bush named as Mr. Bartlett’s successor Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman who was a crucial part of Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign brain trust. But Mr. Gillespie has neither the history, nor the closeness with Mr. Bush, that Mr. Rove has. Mr. Bush, noting the length of their friendship, said that Mr. Rove was “moving on down the road” and reflected a moment on the waning of his second term. “I’ll be on the road behind you here in a little bit,” he said, before the two turn around together and boarded the presidential helicopter to depart for vacation in Texas.
Mr. Rove was not only the chief architect of Mr. Bush’s political campaigns but also the midwife of the president’s political persona itself.
His continued presence in the White House had become a source of fascination in Washington as others, like Mr. Bartlett, left, and as Democrats homed in on his role in the firings of several United States attorneys.
Yet it was nonetheless widely believed inside and outside the White House that he would walk out the door behind Mr. Bush at the end of the president’s term in January 2009, and help him solidify his legacy before his exit.
Mr. Rove had vowed to build a lasting Republican majority, and some associates believed he would try to help his party keep the White House. But Mr. Rove said in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is a favored outlet for Mr. Bush and his aides, that he had no intention of getting involved in the 2008 presidential race.
Mr. Rove has portrayed the defeat in the 2006 midterm elections as a temporary setback, and said in the interview he believed Republicans were still on track for victory in the next election.
He predicted that conditions in Iraq would improve with the continuation of the surge — though he did not address speculation that the president will face pressure this fall, possibly even from fellow Republicans, to bring troops home sooner rather than later. And he predicted that Democrats would fail to show unity on issues such as the president’s eavesdropping program.
He said he intended to write a book, which had been encouraged by “the boss,” and eventually to teach.
Throughout Mr. Bush’s tenure, Mr. Rove vilified Democrats, and they vilified him right back, complaining about his infamously bare-knuckled political tactics on the campaign trail and what they considered his overt politicization of the White House.
He has been the focus in the Congressional investigations into the firings last year of several federal prosecutors, and he was until last year a focus of the C.I.A. leak case investigation that led to a perjury conviction for Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr..
Mr. Rove emerged from the cloud of the investigation to try to stave off Republican defeats last fall. The subsequent failure was his biggest political loss during his time at the White House. Afterward, he continued to take a central role in initiatives such as Mr. Bush’s ultimately failed attempt to create a new immigration law that would have legalized millions of workers that are currently living in the United States illegally.
A political strategist who solidified his reputation by bringing together the sprawling coalition that put Mr. Bush in office, and which he believed would sustain a prolonged Republican majority, he had considered Hispanic voters to be a potential source of new Republican voters.
But Mr. Rove was in the eye of the political storm once again this year as Congress set out to learn his role in the attorney firings, which critics charge had been carried out to impede or spark investigations for partisan aims.
That investigation, and others, have raised new questions about Mr. Rove’s dual role as political adviser and a senior policy aide with wide latitude to pull the levers of government while briefing even members of the diplomatic corps on the political landscape and the electoral vulnerabilities of the Democrats.
The White House cited executive privilege in blocking the testimony of Mr. Rove before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the Wall Street Journal interview today, Mr. Rove said he knew that some people might suspect he was leaving office to avoid scrutiny but said, “I’m not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.”
He said he believed the scrutiny would continue after he left the White House because of what he called the “myth” of his influence, which he referred to as “the Mark of Rove.”
But from the time he leaves office, Mr. Rove will no longer have the protection of White House lawyers and will be more on his own when it comes to dealing with Congressional subpoenas.
The White House has provided cover for some former aides by issuing letters directing them not to testify about their privileged conversations with the president or to answer only a limited set of potential questions.
“”“”In his exit interview today, which was with Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rove had a parting shot for his political nemeses, telling Mr. Gigot that he believed Senator Clinton would be the Democratic nominee but called her a “tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate,” and predicted a Republican victory in the 2008 presidential race. It is the sort of political boasting that had become Mr. Rove’s hallmark.
Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York. Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington.