To many Democrats, Karl Rove was the Machiavelli of the Bush administration. His critics believed that the former White House political director had a hidden influence on everything from fiscal policy to the conduct of the Iraq War.
But that’s not what Mr. Rove himself says. No, he was just a simple public servant, a “traffic cop,” in his own words, who managed the president’s paper and time.
“My job was to make certain that I reviewed every domestic policy document that went to the President and made certain it was worthy of him seeing it, made certain that all the arguments represented in the policy discussions were reflected in the document, and if not, encourage people to sharpen the document up,” Rove told a congressional attorney last month.
Hmmm. “Encourage” people? He did not say exactly how he did that. Perhaps we don’t want to know.
House Judiciary Committee lawyers interviewed Rove at length in July about his involvement (or lack thereof) in the 2006 firings of a number of US attorneys. Congress released hundreds of pages of transcripts on these interviews on Monday, along with supporting e-mails and other evidence.
The sheer volume of the material means it will take weeks for the press and public and plumb its depths. Early indications were that Rove and other aides may have been involved in this controversy earlier than previously known. But whether that involvement crossed any dangerous legal lines remains an open question.
If nothing else, the transcripts reveal Rove as the entertaining and canny operator that many in Washington judge him to be.
He minimizes his own role in the dismissal of the US attorneys, saying that his contact with the Department of Justice on the matter of such personnel policy was “not significant.”
His advice was not to fire all the US attorneys at once, because that would look bad, he said. But he admitted that it was part of his job to handle angry state and local officials who wanted to influence US attorney selection.
Pressed by questioners, he parried with skill.
“I am just breathing, if that is OK?”, he said at one point, when a congressional lawyer demanded an answer.
And Rove also said that he had “developed an opinion” about David Iglesias, US attorney in New Mexico. E-mails show that Peter Dominici, a former GOP senator from the state, badgered the White House about his unhappiness with Mr. Iglesias.
Rove in one instance offered to put the committee lawyer who was questioning him on his Christmas card list.
“I have got an extensive list for holiday cards,” said Rove.
Asked what the notation “Run off ASAP” meant (it was phrase in a Rove-sent e-mail), the ex-political and domestic policy honcho said it was simply a notation to an aide to print the message out, because the type on Rove’s Blackberry was too small for him to see.
“I am getting old, I can’t read,” Rove told House Judiciary lawyers.
Rove rebuked his questioner for referring to Taylor Hughes, a former Rove aide, as “he.” Ms. Hughes was a woman – and once won a political blog’s contest for Most Attractive White House Aide, Rove noted.
“So I will not tell her you called her a ‘he,' ” said Rove.
Rove professed an inability to explain some e-mails from former White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. He said that he did not know what she meant, for instance, when she sent staffers a message that said: “Someone get me the oxygen can!!”
Perino sometimes communicated in haiku, said Rove.
“She lived a frantic life,” he said.