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Is Karl Rove a Liar?

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Is Karl Rove a liar who should be drummed out of polite society -- or, at least, the politerati?

The issue is not his conservative ideology or the still-resonating misdeeds and mistakes of the Bush presidency he made possible. The question is whether new evidence proves that Rove is a serial fibber who cannot be taken at his word.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee released interviews with Rove and Harriet Miers, the former Bush White House counsel, and 5,400 pages of e-mails related to the Bush administration's controversial firing of several U.S. attorneys. Rove and other Bush officials have been accused of engineering some, if not all, of these dismissals for political reasons. Rove has denied he was a player in any politicized crusades against the U.S. attorneys. But this material shows that he was significantly involved in what can only be described as a political vendetta. Still, in response to the release of these documents, Rove baldly says politics had nothing to do with the dismissals. He is not telling the truth.

The most significant of the firings was that of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Republicans wanted his scalp because he was not actively pursuing vote fraud cases targeting Democrats. (Iglesias has said there was no strong evidence on which to prosecute any cases.) According to the new documents, in May and June 2005, Scott Jennings, a Rove aide, sent e-mails to another Rove aide asking what could be done to move ahead "with getting rid of NM US ATTY." In September 2006, according to Miers' testimony to the judiciary committee, an "agitated" Rove phoned Miers and said that Iglesias was "a serious problem and he wanted something done about it." A month later, Rove was part of series of e-mails on this subject. As the committee put it:

An October 2006 e-mail chain begun by [New Mexico Republican] Representative Heather Wilson criticized David Iglesias for not bringing politically useful public corruption prosecutions in the run up to the 2006 elections. Scott Jennings forwarded Wilson's e-mail to Karl Rove and complained that Iglesias had been "shy about doing his job on Madrid," Wilson's opponent in the 2006 Congressional race. Just weeks after this e-mail, Iglesias' name was placed on the final firing list.

The new material reveals that Rove also signed off on what appears to have been a crass political quid pro quo that included the dismissal of another U.S. attorney:

Kansas City U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was removed as part of a White House-brokered deal with U.S. Senator Kit Bond. In exchange for the administration firing Graves, Senator Bond agreed to lift his hold on an Arkansas judge nominated to the Eighth Circuit federal appeals court. A White House e-mail stated that "Karl is fine" with the proposal.

No doubt, some folks will dismiss the House judiciary committee's take as partisan. But The Wall Street Journal also reports that the e-mails show that "White House political aides were discussing possible replacements for Mr. Iglesias, who, the e-mails suggested, had fallen into disfavor with the Bush administration for declining to bring vote-fraud cases as local Republicans wanted."

The Journal zeroed in on a particular set of e-mails. In August 2005, a New Mexico Republican Party official named Allen Weh

wrote to Mr. Rove and other White House officials to remind them of the need to oust Mr. Iglesias, saying, "To be perfectly candid, he was 'missing in action' during the last election." In response, Mr. Rove ordered an aide to discuss with the White House counsel's office the possibility of replacing Mr. Iglesias, according to the e-mails.
It's pretty darn obvious that GOP operatives were out to get Iglesias for political purposes -- they were not objecting to his win-and-loss record in the courtroom -- and Rove was on their side, pushing for Iglesias' ouster.

So let's turn to Rove's latest statement. After the new documents were released, he said:

I welcome the release of my House Judiciary Committee interviews and accompanying documents. They show politics played no role in the Bush Administration's removal of U.S. Attorneys, that I never sought to influence the conduct of any prosecution, and that I played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys were retained and which replaced.

Given the evidence, how can Rove say that politics played no role in Iglesias' removal? And how can he say he played no role in deciding which U.S. attorneys would be canned? With GOPers in New Mexico demanding Iglesias' dismissal, Rove pushed Miers to find a way to dump him. And Rove had a say in the deal that led to Graves' firing. His statement is as false as spin comes.

This is not the first time that Rove has engaged in disseminating false information about his involvement in a scandal. During the CIA leak affair, then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan -- after speaking to Rove -- took the unusual step of publicly declaring that Rove was not tied to the leak that had outed Valerie Plame Wilson as an undercover CIA officer.

But that was not true. ("I had unknowingly passed along false information," McClellan later said, blaming Rove and others for that.) Rove had indeed been part of the leak. He had told Matt Cooper, then of Time, that Valerie Wilson was a CIA employee, and he had confirmed Wilson's CIA connection to Robert Novak, the conservative columnist who published the initial leak about her. And as Mike Isikoff and I detailed in our book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Rove came perilously close to being indicted after failing to tell a grand jury that he had spoken to Cooper about Wilson. Though he ultimately escaped indictment, Rove for years let stand the public lie that he had nothing to do with the Bush administration slipping classified information about Wilson to reporters.

There is a pattern. When Rove is caught in a scandal, he obfuscates. And when the evidence of his wrongdoing is clear, he keeps on spinning. The current go-round shows how brazen he can be. Documents demonstrate he was part of a political operation, but Rove asserts that there was no political operation and that he was not part of it.

Rove, who last year was a columnist for Newsweek, pays no price for repeatedly mugging the truth. But since he is such an unreliable source of information, should any newsmagazine, newspaper or cable news network (even Fox News) retain his punditry services? There's no indication, however, the latest revelations will cause him to be exiled from the commentariat. In more ways than one, Rove is proof that spin works.

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