President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, arrives at the White House every day wearing a jovial smile that masks his boss’ political troubles and his own legal woes.
Rove, the man Bush dubbed “the architect” of his re-election, has the arduous task of halting Bush’s popularity spiral and keeping Democrats from capturing the House or Senate in November elections _ while under the threat of indictment in the CIA leak case.
His friends and colleagues say he’s not fazed by his precarious situation.
“Karl’s focus is sharper than ever and his spirit is high,” said Dan Bartlett, White House counselor, downplaying any claims that Rove is distracted. “He packs more work into one day than most of us get done in a week.”
Rove was asked about his legal problems Monday after a speech on the economy at a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. He ducked. “Nice try,” Rove told the questioner.
If the grand jury weren’t in the news, it would be hard to tell that Rove, a deputy White House chief of staff, is waiting to find out if he’ll be indicted.
Photo after photo of Rove, who is often seen walking behind Bush on the South Lawn or sitting behind him at meetings, depicts the moonfaced adviser wearing the same smile, one that suggests little about what he might be thinking or feeling.
Rove had that expression on April 26 when he arrived at the federal courthouse to testify for the fifth time, and when he made his exit nearly four hours later. Later in the day, Rove was seen kidding around at a trendy Washington restaurant that was hosting a 10th anniversary party for “Fox News Sunday.”
Former White House counsel John Dean, who told prosecutors about his own role in Watergate in the 1970s, said Nixon aides who were fighting charges went through great anxiety and spent a lot of time to protect themselves during their final days.
“If Rove is operating as if nothing is going to happen, it is because he has been told nothing is going to happen,” Dean said. “Otherwise, he is faking it, and others are protecting him.”
Rove’s friends say he handles whatever pressure he feels by reminding himself that he can’t control the outcome
“He understands that it’s not his decision to make,” said GOP consultant Ed Gillespie. “He is just one who understands that this is beyond his control _ that he’s going to get through it and that it’s going to come to a resolution soon.”
Rove’s fate for now is in the hands of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who must decide whether he thinks Rove lied or just forgot to tell a grand jury about a conversation with a reporter.
Rove first told Fitzgerald that he had spoken to conservative columnist Robert Novak in July 2003 before Novak published an article that revealed CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity. Months later, Rove said he had failed to mention that he also had talked to Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
Novak’s article was published just days after Plame’s husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times that accused the Bush White House of twisting intelligence on Iraq to justify the war. Wilson alleges that the administration blew his wife’s cover as revenge.
Fitzgerald already has charged Lewis Libby, the vice president’s former chief of staff, with perjury and obstruction of justice, accusing him of lying to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned about Plame and what he subsequently told reporters about her.
Rove’s fifth appearance before a grand jury rekindled speculation that he, too, could be indicted. Fitzgerald has advised Rove that he is not a target of the investigation, according to Rove’s lawyer, Robert D. Luskin.
As the grand jury prepares to meet again on Wednesday, the waiting game for Rove continues.
Late last year, Rove apparently thought it would be over by now.
In a thank-you note in December to Bill Israel, who had a teaching job at the University of Texas at Austin at the same time Rove taught there, Rove predicted a quick end to the ordeal. “In short, he thought he would be cleared,” said Israel, who has kept in touch with Rove sporadically since leaving Austin in 1999.
A few of Rove’s friends say they think the investigation has taken an emotional toll on him, yet some of his colleagues suspect the president’s poor poll ratings and the high-stakes midterm elections are weighing the adviser down more than his legal woes.
“It’s not easy, but this is not as tough as 2002 or 2004,” said conservative activist Grover Norquist, who doesn’t think the threat of indictment is real.
“I saw him at dinner last night. He’s fine.”
Rove expressed optimism about the midterms during a question-and-answer session following his speech on Monday.
“Look, we’re in a sour time,” Rove said. “I readily admit it. I mean, being in the middle of a war where people turn on their television sets and see brave men and women dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat.”
But Rove added: “We’re going to be just fine in the fall elections.”
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© 2006 The Associated Press