A Glimpse of Secret Rove

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 22, 2008; 1:30 PM

Sunday's episode of "60 Minutes" offers a glimpse of the secret Karl Rove.

Not the public Rove -- the jovial number-crunching doofus who has taken to popping up on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and even has his own column in Newsweek.

I'm talking about the other Rove -- the dirty trickster and master of calumny who is widely assumed to have been behind the smearing of John McCain in 2000 and the Swift-Boating of John Kerry in 2004. You know, the Rove who barely avoided a federal indictment for his part in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The one who critics believe subverted the Justice Department and spurred nakedly partisan prosecutions of Democratic officials, including former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Ben Evans writes for the Associated Press: " A former Republican campaign worker claims that President Bush's former top political adviser, Karl Rove, asked her to find evidence that the Democratic governor of Alabama at the time was cheating on his wife, according to an upcoming broadcast of '60 Minutes.'

"Jill Simpson, who has long alleged that Rove may have influenced the corruption prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman, makes the claim against Rove in a broadcast scheduled to be aired Sunday, according to a statement from CBS.

"Simpson testified to congressional investigators last year that she overheard conversations among Republicans in 2002 indicating that Rove was involved in the Justice Department's prosecution of Siegelman. She has never before said that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity in spite of testifying to congressional lawyers last year, submitting a sworn affidavit and speaking extensively with reporters.

"Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, denied the allegation."

Here's a preview from CBS News: "'Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?' asks [reporter Scott] Pelley.

"'Yes,' replies Simpson.

"'In a compromising, sexual position with one of his aides,' clarifies Pelley.

"'Yes, if I could,' says Simpson.

"Simpson says she found no evidence of infidelity despite months of observation. She tells Pelley that Rove, who had been a top Republican strategist in Alabama, had made requests for information from her before in her capacity as an 'opposition researcher' for Republicans running for office."

Here's a video clip. Pelley says Simpson claims "that the Siegelman prosecution was part of five-year, secret campaign to ruin the governor."

Pelley asks Simpson if she was surprised by what Rove asked her.

Simpson: "No.

Pelley: "Why not?"

Simpson: "I had had other requests for intelligence before."

Pelley: "From Karl Rove?"

Simpson: "Yes."

An Exaggeration -- at Best

President Bush's campaign to terrify Congressional Democrats into submission on national security issues may be losing its effectiveness -- see my Feb. 15 column, The House Strikes Back-- but Bush isn't backing off. In fact, he's ratcheting up the rhetoric.

In an interview with reporters on Air Force One yesterday, as they headed home from Africa, Bush was asked about foreign intelligence surveillance. And he made the over-the-top assertion that if Congress doesn't grant retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, there will be "no program" at all.

In reality, plenty of surveillance would continue to be legal, and plenty more would become legal if the House version of the surveillance bill -- which does not include retroactive immunity -- became law. So what, one has to wonder, is Bush talking about?

From the interview:

Q: "On FISA -- I understand your position, but what I'm unclear about is whether you're doing something to break the deadlock? Do you see yourself engaging with the other side, compromising? Or where do we go from here?"

Bush: "How do you compromise on something like granting liability for a telecommunications company? You can't. If we do not give liability protection to those who are helping us, they won't help us. And if they don't help us, there will be no program. And if there's no program, America is more vulnerable.

"What I'm going to do is continue to remind people that unless they get this program done, we're going to be vulnerable to attack."

Q: "Do you see an opportunity to work with the Democrats and ---"

Bush: " . . .It's just so important for people to understand the dangers. If we don't have the capacity to listen to these terrorists, we're not going to be able to protect ourselves."

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon that Bush's allies in Congress are echoing his rhetoric: "The House Republicans have produced a new dramatic ad complaining about expiration of The Protect America Act and demanding immediate passage of the Cheney/Rockefeller Senate bill -- thus vesting in the government the power to spy on us with no warrants and vesting in the telecom industry license to break the law with no consequences -- as the only way for us to avoid imminent, violent death."

Back From Africa

U.S. News reports: "President Bush is back in the US today, and his Africa trip hasn't produced the public-relations bonanza back home that Bush's strategists had been hoping for. He has received favorable attention in the news media for his various programs to alleviate poverty and help African nations reduce disease such as AIDS and malaria. But the coverage has mostly been relegated to lesser status on the TV networks and the inside pages of the major newspapers, even though the President has received stirring receptions from the public and from African leaders throughout his trip. . . . One consolation: Bush appears to have had a wonderful time and was buoyed by the positive reaction he got in Africa all week."

Here's the obligatory video of Bush dancing.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Liberia was the final stop on Mr. Bush's six-day, five-nation African tour, selected because the White House wanted to end on a high note. . . .

"With almost no electricity, scant running water, an unemployment rate of 80 percent and a life expectancy of 42 years, Liberia remains in rough shape. . . .

"The dirt roads from the airport to the city are lined with shantytowns, where people live in rickety shacks under corrugated metal roofs.

"But Liberia scurried to spruce up for Mr. Bush's arrival. In Monrovia on Thursday morning, workmen were still plastering Mr. Bush's picture on billboards an hour before his arrival. Schoolgirls in white shirts and navy blue jumpers waited along the streets, American flags tucked into their hands. The Stars and Stripes flew along the city's main boulevard, twinned with the Liberian flag, which is nearly identical to that of the United States except it has one star instead of 50. It is also reminiscent of the flag of Texas, the Lone Star State.

"'I feel pretty much at home here,' Mr. Bush said. 'In Liberia, you fly the lone star flag.'"

Stephanie McCrummen writes in The Washington Post: "In his tour of Africa, President Bush steered clear of countries where stability, human rights and progress toward democracy have degenerated during his tenure, among them Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Kenya. . . .

"[C]ritics say that several less-than-democratic African leaders have skillfully played the anti-terrorism card to earn a relationship with the United States that has helped keep them in power.

"While Bush has received praise across the continent for his fight against malaria and AIDS, many Africans who hoped that the United States would support their struggle for more just and open societies have been disappointed. They include opposition groups, human rights activists, intellectuals, professionals and, significantly in Kenya and Somalia, moderate Muslims who've felt unjustly targeted in the U.S.-driven hunt for terrorism suspects."

For instance: "In Sudan, analysts have suggested that U.S. reliance on Sudanese counterterrorism intelligence has prevented a tougher stance on the crisis in the country's western Darfur region, where a government crackdown on rebels has left as many as 450,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced."

Here's Bush reminiscing about the trip on his way home yesterday -- and flaunting his modesty.

"So it's been a -- it's an exciting trip. I mean, you saw the crowds, you saw the enthusiasm.

"But that's not what's important. You know, people say -- Bob Geldof asked me, he said, 'Why don't you take credit for it? Why don't you show what you have done for Africa?' Well, it's not me, for starters; and you don't act out of the desire to enhance your own standing; that's not exactly why one is called into service. It doesn't matter about me. What matters is, are we saving people's lives? That's what matters. And we are."

Speaking of Mercy

Here's Bush riding Ben Feller, the hard-working and under-the-weather Associated Press correspondent:

Bush: "Feller, how you feeling, man? I've asked you twice. You look like you're a little pale."

Q: "I'm hanging in there."

Bush: "Have you vomited yet today? (Laughter.)"

Better Off Abroad

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "The president plans to pack his bags often in 2008, not just for the souvenirs but because, much as with any two-term presidency heading into its twilight, he may have more opportunity to assert leadership and solidify achievements than by staying in Washington. . . .

"His final-year itinerary will again take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories this year. He will attend a NATO summit in Romania in early April and a European Union summit in Slovenia in June. He will head to Japan in July for a Group of Eight summit and a month later to China for the Summer Olympics. And finally, he plans to go to Peru in November for an Asia-Pacific economic meeting."

And yet: "Critics in both parties believe he wrecked U.S. foreign policy through a reckless adventure in Iraq that alienated much of the world and will take years to repair. Despite the crowds he generates in Africa, Bush remains a deeply unpopular figure in many other parts of the globe, where he is viewed as a cowboy bent on imposing his own views."

Iraq Watch

Charles Krauthammer writes in his Washington Post opinion column that "there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

"Unless you're a Democrat. As Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) put it, 'Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq.' . . .

"Are the Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory?"

Michael Kinsley writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "The test is simple, and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

"In fact, President Bush laid down the standard of success when he announced the surge more than a year ago: 'If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.' At the time, there were about 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. . . .

"Today, there are still more than 150,000 American troops in Iraq. The official plan has been to get that number back down to 130,000 by July, and then to keep on going so that there would be about 100,000 American troops in Iraq by the time Bush leaves office.

"Just lately, though, General Petraeus has come up with another zen-like idea: he calls it a 'pause.' And the administration has signed on, meaning that the total number of American troops in Iraq will remain at 130,000 for an undetermined period."

Pakistan Watch

Reviled and repudiated pretty much everywhere except in the White House, Pervez Musharraf pleads in a Washington Post op-ed for continued support from the United States.

"Our nation faces three main tasks: defeating terrorism and extremism; building a stable and effective democratic government; and creating a solid foundation for sustained economic growth. Because these goals are shared by the vast majority of Pakistanis, I am certain we can and will accomplish them, and I stand ready to work with the newly elected Parliament to achieve these objectives."

But Jane Perlez and Carlotta Gail write in the New York Times: "The two main opposition parties that won Pakistan's elections this week announced Thursday that they had set aside their differences and would form a government, further isolating President Pervez Musharraf, America's favored ally here. . . .

"Since the rout of Mr. Musharraf's political supporters, who won just 40 of 272 seats contested Monday, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to express its confidence in the president as a cooperative ally in the campaign against terrorism for the last six years.

"President Bush took time out of his Africa trip to call Mr. Musharraf soon after the vote, and Bush administration officials have said they would still like to see him as part of a power-sharing deal.

"But at a news conference, the two opposition leaders, Asif Ali Zardari, of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, all but snuffed out what hope remained for such a plan. . . .

"[A]n opposition coalition that threatens Mr. Musharraf is likely to leave the Bush administration uneasy. In addition, both opposition leaders are regarded with some skepticism in Washington, and have a long history of tangles with Mr. Musharraf and corruption accusations."

In fact, as I noted in my Nov. 28 column, Bush at the time strongly implied in an interview with the Associated Press that Sharif is naive about terrorism -- maybe the worst sin in Bush's universe. Asked about Sharif, he responded: "I would be concerned about any leader who didn't understand the urgency of dealing with radicals and extremists who want to attack the United States and/or any other nation."

Space Wars

Marc Kaufman and Josh White writes in The Washington Post: "The unprecedented downing of an errant spy satellite by a Navy missile makes it clear that the Pentagon has a new weapon in its arsenal -- an anti-satellite missile adapted from the nation's missile defense program. . . .

"[M]any space experts and arms-control advocates in the United States and abroad said the shot had opened the door to more anti-satellite tests by more nations.

"'Demonstrably, we do have an [anti-satellite] capability now,' said David Mosher, a Rand Corp. defense and space expert. 'Anyone who followed national missile defense issues knew we've had that inherent ability for some time. But now it's real, and we can expect there will be consequences.'"

Nancy A. Youssef writes for McClatchy Newspapers that "even as debris from the shattered satellite began raining down over the Pacific Ocean, there were worries that the U.S. achievement might spur other nations to advance their own anti-satellite programs and turn outer space into a potential battlefield.

"'I don't see how other nations don't see this as an anti-satellite test,' said Theresa Hitchens, the director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, a centrist national security policy institute. 'They'll see it as the weaponization of space.'"

Thom Shanker asks in the New York Times: "Should the people of the world be breathing a sigh of relief that the risk of a half-ton of frozen, toxic rocket fuel landing who knows where has passed? Or should they be worried about the latest display of the United States' technical prowess, and see it as a thinly veiled test for a shadow antisatellite program?"

Well, certainly not the former. For more, see yesterday's column, George Bush, Space Cowboy.

Rendition Watch

Kevin Sullivan writes in The Washington Post: "U.S. and British officials disclosed Thursday that two U.S. 'extraordinary rendition' flights carrying terrorism suspects refueled on U.K. territory in the Indian Ocean in 2002, despite repeated denials by both governments that clandestine CIA flights had ever used British airspace or territory. . . .

"Foreign Minister David Miliband first disclosed the flights in Parliament on Thursday, saying he was 'very sorry indeed' to have to correct previous denials by Blair and other top British officials.

"Miliband said Britain learned last week that two flights, each carrying a single terror suspect, had landed at Diego Garcia, a British atoll in the Indian Ocean that British and U.S. forces use for military operations. Human rights activists have long suspected that Diego Garcia hosted one of the CIA's secret prisons for terror suspects. . . .

"CIA Director Michael V. Hayden issued a statement saying that information supplied to Britain 'in good faith' had 'turned out to be wrong.'

"'That we found this mistake ourselves, and that we brought it to the attention of the British Government, in no way changes or excuses the reality that we were in the wrong,' he said.

"Hayden said neither terror suspect was a part of the CIA's 'high-value terrorist interrogation program.'

"'These were rendition operations, nothing more,' Hayden said. 'There has been speculation in the press over the years that CIA had a holding facility on Diego Garcia. That is false. There have also been allegations that we transport detainees for the purpose of torture. That, too, is false.'"

John F. Burns writes in the New York Times: "For years, governments and Parliaments across Europe have been roiled by accusations that the C.I.A. has used European airspace and airfields for rendition flights, but in the face of insistent American denials much about the practice has remained murky. The nations listed by human rights groups as having been involved in the flights -- or of turning a blind eye to use of their airfields -- have included Britain, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, among others. One British rights group, Liberty, contended in 2005 that aircraft operated by or chartered by the C.I.A. had used 11 British airports and air bases since 2001, involving 210 flights.

"The CIA's acknowledgment that it misled Britain about the two flights revived those accusations, and not only among the rights groups. Mr. Miliband said the foreign office was compiling a list of flights that protest groups have cited in their accusations of British complicity in the C.I.A. rendition program, which would be passed to the United States for 'their specific assurance that none of these fights were used for rendition purposes.'"

Torture Watch

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, laments the desensitizing of the American people to government-sanctioned abuse of detainees -- but sees a possible antidote.

"Last week, a team of faculty and students from Seton Hall Law School -- the folks who've worked tirelessly for years to document the government's best evidence against the Guantanamo prisoners -- released a new report suggesting that the government has recorded all of the interrogations at Guantanamo. Using documents prepared by the government and obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, the team established that all of the 24,000 interrogations conducted at the camp since 2002 were taped. This jibes with reports from the detainees themselves, who came forward to dispute CIA Director Michael Hayden's claim last winter that the videotaping had been halted in 2002. . . .

"According to the Seton Hall report, many of these interrogations were clearly abusive. One government document reports that tapes would reflect detainee treatment so violent as to 'shake the camera in the interrogation room' and 'cause severe internal injury.' Another report depicts an interrogator 'positioning herself between a detainee and the camera in order to block her actions from view.'

"It's not clear anymore that the Bush administration has a uniform definition of torture. The new view seems to be that torture is what the president says it is, at the moment he must decide whether to torture. But if Americans could see the tapes of water-boarding and abusive interrogations while they still have the ability to be horrified, they may feel differently. The Seton Hall report quotes a former senior CIA official saying: '[I]t's a qualitatively different thing--seeing it versus reading about it.' That qualitative difference seems to have a brief shelf life. . . .

"If there really are thousands of hours of videotaped interrogations at Guantanamo, we should be clamoring to see them now, while they might still be able to horrify us. John Yoo and Steven Bradbury think that an interrogation method is torture only if it produces irrevocable damage. But long after the torture tapes are forgotten, what may be irrevocably damaged is our capacity for outrage."

White House v. New York Times

The White House weighed in in support of Senator John McCain, a day after the New York Times reported that top advisers confronted McCain during his first presidential run with concerns about his ties to a female lobbyist.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel at today's gaggle: "I think a lot of people here in this building with experience in a couple campaigns have grown accustomed to the fact that during the course of a campaign, about -- seemingly on maybe a monthly basis leading up to the convention, maybe a weekly basis after that, The New York Times does try to drop a bombshell on the Republican nominee. And that is something that the Republican nominee has faced in the past, and probably will face in this campaign. And sometimes they make incredible leaps to try to drop those bombshells on the Republican nominees.

"So that is something that we're aware of, and that, unfortunately is a fact of life."

Poll Watch

The New York Times editorial board blogs: "The American Research Group, a well-known polling organization, released a pretty surprising poll yesterday putting President Bush's approval rating at a new low: just 19 percent. . . .

"Other polls have Mr. Bush's popularity sliding as he enters his final year in office -- including a recent CBS poll that put his approval at 27 percent -- but ARG's number is far below the rest of the pack.

"One reason may be that ARG preceded its question about Mr. Bush's popularity by asking a series of questions about the economy. It may be that by making survey respondents first focus on pocketbook issues -- including fears of a recession -- the poll got people into a frame of mind not favorable to Mr. Bush. . . .

"Of course, sometimes polls just get things wrong, and ARG's February numbers on Mr. Bush could simply be an outlier."

I thought it was so self-evidently an outlier, I haven't even linked to it until now. But I guess we'll see.

Mark Your Calendar

Tuesday at 10 a.m., the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be holding a hearing on "Electronic Records Preservation at the White House."

Tony Snow Watch

Bill O'Reilly announces: "former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow will be joining the Factor as Bill's permanent fill-in host for the Radio Factor!"

Cartoon Watch

Dwane Powell and John Sherffius on the new arms race in space; Ed Gamble on Bush's frequent flying; Don Wright on Bush's earmarks.

And Dave Astor writes for Editor and Publisher: "John Sherffius has won the 2008 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. . . .

"Sherffius -- who'll get a $10,000 tax-free award -- does his cartoons for the Boulder, Col., Camera and Copley News Service. . . .

"The prize went to Sherffius for a package of cartoons that chronicled the Bush Administration over the past year. Included were drawings about subjects such as torture, wiretapping, the escalation of the war in Iraq, and the administration's approach to global warming."

Among Sherffius's winning entries: One on the 2007 State of the Union speech and one on the Bush Adminquisition.

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