Rove, Wrong

By Matt Loffman

Mar 12, 2010 2:12pm

In the sea of mischaracterizations made by White House spinners, the one former Bush political guru Karl Rove makes about me in his new book is a minnow.

But since I’ve been asked about it, and since I do have this forum, I hope you’ll indulge me as I correct the record.

In his new book “Courage and Consequence: My Life As a Conservative in the Fight,” Rove wrote about, among many other matters, the mini-scandal from campaign 2000 when then-Gov. George W. Bush’s debate materials were shipped to Tom Downey, an adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore, who then called the FBI.

Writes Rove:

“Within two weeks, the investigation was leaking all over the front page. On September 24, it broke that a young Gore aide had bragged to ABC that he had a mole inside our camp. The next day, Jake Tapper wrote a long piece for Salon.com alleging—based on no evidence – that I had sent the debate materials to entrap the Gore camp. The idea was that the Bush campaign could cry foul play if it were discovered that Gore’s team had gained illicit access to our debate preparation. The Texas Democratic chairwoman, Molly Beth Malcolm, helpfully gave him a quote making the charge explicit: ‘[I j have some idea of how both [Bush media consultant Mark] McKinnon and Karl Rove work on campaigns…When I first heard about this, my immediate reaction was to turn to my husband and say, “This thing has Karl Rove’s fingerprints all over it.”’”

The story Mr. Rove cites appeared in Salon.com on September 26, 2000.

You can read the whole thing HERE.

The story is not as Rove depicts it.

I didn’t allege that Rove sent the materials, I gave voice to officials from both campaigns accusing the other of having played a role, noting that no one had any concrete evidence to back up their charges.

The title of the story: “Spy vs. spy;  With few facts, both the Bush and Gore campaigns accuse each other of dirty tricks.”

It begins as so: “The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn't treating the story about the alleged ‘mole’ in the campaign of Gov. George W. Bush as gravely as the representatives of the campaigns of both Bush and Vice President Al Gore. ‘There's no “investigation,”’ says Tracy Silverling, an FBI spokeswoman. ‘It's a “preliminary inquiry.” We don't even know if there was any federal violation of law.’ But that hasn't stopped both Republicans and Democrats from insinuating nefarious shenanigans worthy of Robert Ludlum…

“Bush campaign officials are accusing the Gore campaign of knowing more about political espionage than it's telling; Gore supporters, and even the vice president himself, have hinted that they think they're being set up. This week, the head of the Texas Democratic Party went so far as to say that the whole affair reminds her of dirty tricks past by Bush's chief strategist, Karl Rove, though she had no evidence whatsoever to link Rove to the creepiest incident so far in Campaign 2000.

“Other Democrats were quick to point out that Rove himself had once been involved in telling reporters about an FBI investigation of an opposing candidate, and had even possibly lied before a Texas state Senate hearing when asked about the matter. Absolutely none of this tied Rove to this latest incident, but that didn't stop Democrats from blanket-faxing the media universe with background materials about the 1990 hearing, as well as about other accounts of Rove's more questionable dealings.”

It went on from there, looking into the accusations from both sides and pointing out that both camps were making insinuations minus evidence.

Rove may have been offended by the fact that I did explain why so many Democrats were, sans evidence, insinuating that he may have been behind it all. But I noted that while “there is some evidence of dirty tricks by Rove in the past, none of it establishes anything more than the fact that if you were at the beach, Rove might not be the guy you'd ask to hold onto your wallet while you went in for a dip — especially if you happened to be running a campaign against a Rove-backed candidate.”

And when I quoted Malcolm, I noted more than once that she made her charges “without a shred of evidence.”

The story also quoted then-Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer at length defending Rove and going on about the Gore operative whose role in the controversy the Bush campaign was questioning.

During campaign 2000, I regularly posed uncomfortable questions to both major party presidential candidates and also voiced my concern that too many in the media were far tougher on Gore than they were on Bush. (For what it’s worth, president-wise, I voiced the opposite concern about campaign 2008, thinking too many members of the media were easier on then-Sen. Barack Obama than they were on then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain.)

So I had wondered if Rove would use the occasion of his book to settle a score or two. What I didn’t know is that he would make an assertion so easily refutable.

I recall thinking at the time that the debate briefing book incident provided a peg for me to inform readers about Rove’s considerable history with political pranks. Clearly that was, in his view, unfair, and I can understand why he might think that. On the other hand, he has quite a history of pranks and those facts seemed relevant as they were being cited quite a bit by his opponents. As long as I kept mentioning that there was no evidence that Rove was tied to this – and I did, at least four times – I thought it worth mentioning.

So the story is not as Mr. Rove describes it.  Again, considering Mr. Rove’s oeuvre, this is no biggie. But it’s clearly a false assertion, so thanks for the indulgence in allowing me to correct the record.

-jpt

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