Skip to comments.Attorney General Is Closely Linked to Inquiry Figures
Posted on 10/02/2003 4:57:43 AM PDT by prairiebreeze
Deep political ties between top White House aides and Attorney General John Ashcroft have put him into a delicate position as the Justice Department begins a full investigation into whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer.
Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, whose possible role in the case has raised questions, was a paid consultant to three of Mr. Ashcroft's campaigns in Missouri, twice for governor and for United States senator, in the 1980's and 1990's, an associate of Mr. Rove said on Wednesday.
Jack Oliver, the deputy finance chairman of Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, was the director of Mr. Ashcroft's 1994 Senate campaign, and later worked as Mr. Ashcroft's deputy chief of staff.
Those connections led Democrats on Wednesday to assert that Mr. Rove's connections to Mr. Ashcroft amounted to a clear conflict of interest and undermined the integrity of the investigation. The disclosures have also emboldened Democrats who have called for the appointment of an outside counsel.
On Wednesday the administration worked to ensure that no Republicans in Congress broke ranks and called for an independent inquiry, and it sought to portray the former diplomat at the center of the case as a partisan Democrat.
Mr. Ashcroft's predicament over whether to bring in a special counsel is reminiscent of the exchanges between President Bill Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno. Ms. Reno's appointments of numerous independent counsels to investigate ethics accusations against the Clinton administration fueled tensions between her and the president, and by the end of his second term, associates said, the two were said to be barely on speaking terms.
In contrast, the president has voiced strong public support for Mr. Ashcroft in recent months, the two meet almost daily, and the ties between their political aides go back a decade or more.
At the very least, the relationships have given new grist to the Democrats. "This is not like, `Oh, yeah, they're both Republicans, they've been in the same room together,' " said Roy Temple, the former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party and the former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri. "Karl Rove was once part of John Ashcroft's political strategic team. You have both the actual conflict, and the appearance of conflict. It doesn't matter what's in the deep, dark recesses of their hearts. It stinks."
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said she was particularly concerned about the past campaign work that Mr. Rove did for Mr. Ashcroft. "Given allegations about the involvement of senior White House officials and the past close association between the attorney general and those officials, the investigation should be headed by a person independent of the administration," Ms. Pelosi said.
On Wednesday, Justice Department officials would not rule out the possibility of Mr. Ashcroft's appointing a special counsel, or recusing himself from the inquiry.
"We're leaving all legal options open," said Mark Corallo, a department spokesman.
And the associate of Mr. Rove said of the attorney general, "He's going to have to recuse himself, don't you think?"
Mr. Bush himself salvaged Mr. Ashcroft's political career by selecting him as attorney general after Mr. Ashcroft lost his Senate race in 2000 to Mr. Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash just before the election.
In 2001, Mr. Ashcroft recused himself from an investigation into accusations against Senator Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey because Mr. Torricelli had campaigned against him in Missouri. Mr. Torricelli withdrew from his re-election race.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft say that the Justice Department will be fair and thorough, and Justice officials say that the investigation will be handled independently by attorneys in the criminal division's counterespionage section. "Career professionals with decades of experience in these kinds of cases are fully capable of conducting a thorough and complete investigation," said a senior Justice Department official.
On Monday, the White House dismissed as "ridiculous" the suggestion that Mr. Rove had illegally disclosed the identity of the Central Intelligence Agency officer to journalists to intimidate the officer's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who has been critical of the administration's use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Mr. Wilson initially charged that Mr. Rove was behind the leak, but he has since backtracked, saying that he only suspects Mr. Rove is the source.
Justice Department officials said that it was too early to say which administration officials would be subjects of their investigation, but they are likely to seek information from many senior advisers at the White House, including Mr. Rove.
An associate said Mr. Rove had been hired by Mr. Ashcroft in 1984, in Mr. Ashcroft's first successful race for governor of Missouri, to handle the campaign's mail solicitations for political contributions. The associate said Mr. Rove also handled Mr. Ashcroft's direct-mail solicitations for his 1988 re-election campaign and his 1994 Senate campaign, both of them successful.
By 1998, Mr. Rove had sold his direct-mail operation, Karl Rove and Company of Austin, Tex., at the request of Mr. Bush, who was considering a run for president and wanted his political aide unencumbered. In 2000, Mr. Rove worked for Mr. Bush and played no official role in Mr. Ashcroft's losing Senate race.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rove referred calls about his work for Mr. Ashcroft to Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman. Ms. Buchan said Mr. Rove recalled handling direct mail solicitations for two of Mr. Ashcroft's campaigns, not three.
"That was his recollection," Ms. Buchan said. "He wasn't sure on the dates. He said yes on '94 and maybe another race as well."
Even some Republicans, while united in their belief that there is no need for an outside counsel, say Mr. Ashcroft will be hit hard by his political detractors if the investigation drags on.
"All of these so-called scandals can snowball and every new crumb of information turns into a front-page story above the fold," a Senate Republican aide said. "The Democrats are going to make of this what they will, but the reality is you could have the pope do the investigation and they'd still be screaming bias."
The furor over the case finds Republicans and Democrats reversing their roles from the final years of the Clinton administration. Then, Attorney General Reno was dogged by calls from Republicans to appoint an outside counsel to investigate accusations of campaign finance abuses by Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore
Justice officials say that the investigation will be handled independently by attorneys in the criminal division's counterespionage section. "Career professionals with decades of experience in these kinds of cases are fully capable of conducting a thorough and complete investigation," said a senior Justice Department official.
Dems: "Nope, they aren't the pope. We will be screaming".
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