Congressional GOP stands behind Karl Rove -- for now

House and Senate Republicans yesterday stood behind Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political strategist and deputy chief of staff, who has come under fire for his involvement in the controversy over leaking the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Democrats are demanding that the administration provide a full explanation of Rove’s role after Newsweek reported that he discussed the CIA operative without naming her in a July 2003 conversation with a Time reporter.

patrick g. ryan
President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove


Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told The Hill, “I’m not going to participate in a hit job on Karl Rove. I’m going to wait for the facts.”

DeLay prefaced his comments by saying that the media had demanded a special prosecutor and now must wait for the facts. Told that the media doesn’t have the power to convene a special prosecutor, DeLay brushed off the comment.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said that “the talk on the street” was less about Rove and more about shielding reporters from having to disclose their confidential sources.

“There’s no federal protection, and that’s what we should be focused on,” he said. “There’s a loud cry for protection for journalists.”

Other lawmakers were less direct than DeLay.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said he was reviewing a letter sent to him Monday by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asking for a hearing into the leaks.

Davis declined to say if he thinks Rove should resign. But in what is perhaps a foreshadowing of the political fight to come, he was quick to jump on inconsistencies in Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s initial story about who in the Bush administration sent him to Niger in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Iraq had tried to buy uranium ore for possible use in weapons of mass destruction.

Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, had been an undercover CIA agent working on issues involving weapons of mass destruction until columnist Bob Novak printed her name in a column in July 2003.

A copy of an e-mail from Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper to his editor, released last week, said that Rove was a source for a story Cooper had written for Time’s website. Time executives released Cooper’s notes to the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, and Cooper has agreed to testify. But New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to identify her confidential sources.

Bush had said that he would fire any administration official involved in leaking the name of an undercover agent. But yesterday he avoided answering reporters who asked if he’d fire Rove. On Monday, Scott McClellan, the president’s spokesman, refused to address previous statements that Rove was not involved in leaking Plame’s name.

A federal law makes it a crime to disclose the name of a CIA undercover agent.

Several lawmakers said they do not know enough about the facts of the case to respond. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both declined to comment, while Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said that he was in Germany during last week’s congressional recess and had not heard about the case.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who has been critical of how the administration has prosecuted the war in Iraq, said, “That’s up to the president and Karl Rove.”

Reps. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said they had been discussing strategies to stop leaks of classified information but did not want to speculate about the political fallout there might be, if any.

Hoekstra said in an intelligence briefing about last week’s London terrorist attacks that a CIA official said much of what the media had reported was inaccurate. But he did not elaborate.

The Bush administration has had a contentious relationship with how reporters and lawmakers have used classified information.
The administration threatened to withhold classified information from most lawmakers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to stop the disclosure of classified information. But the Bush administration has shared classified information with journalists when it serves its broader political goals.

The Hill has reported that Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) inquired in 2003 whether Bush administration officials passed classified information to Bob Woodward for his best-selling book, Bush at War. Moreover, much of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations before the start of the war in Iraq about Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and use weapons of mass destruction was based on previously classified information.

The FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee are investigating the leaking of classified information in 2002.

The Washington Post reported last August that federal investigators concluded that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had divulged classified intercepted messages to the media during the joint House-Senate inquiry into the 2001 terrorist attacks.