Karl Rove, top Bush aide, to step down

By Jim Rutenberg

Karl Rove, the political adviser who masterminded George W. Bush’s two winning presidential campaigns and secured his own place in history as a political strategist with extraordinary influence, is resigning, the White House said Monday.In an interview published in The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news Monday, Rove said, “I just think it’s time,” adding, “There’s always something that can keep you here, and as much as I’d like to be here, I’ve got to do this for the sake of my family.”

Rove said he had first considered leaving a year ago but stayed after his party lost the crucial midterm elections last fall, which put Congress in Democratic hands, and as Bush’s problems mounted in Iraq and in his pursuit of a new immigration policy.

He said his hand was forced now when the White House chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, recently told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day he would expect them to stay through the rest of Bush’s term.

“He’s been talking with the president for a long time – about a year – regarding when might be good to go,” said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

“But there’s always a big project to work on, and his strategic abilities – and our need for his support – kept him here,” she said, adding that Rove would leave at the end of August.

The White House did not immediately say whether Bolten would name a successor to Rove, who held the title of deputy chief of staff.

But even if he does, none would have the same influence with the president or, most likely, the same encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. politics.

Rove will be the latest major figure to depart from the Bush administration’s inner circle. Earlier this summer, Bush lost as his counsel Dan Bartlett, a fellow Texan who had been part of the original group of close advisers that followed Bush from the Texas governor’s mansion to the White House.

Bush named as Bartlett’s successor Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, who was a crucial part of Bush’s 2004 campaign brain trust. But Gillespie has neither the history, nor the closeness with Bush, that Rove has.

Rove was not only the chief architect of Bush’s political campaigns but also the midwife of the president’s political persona itself.

Rove’s continued presence in the White House had become a source of fascination in Washington as others, like Bartlett, left, and as Democrats homed in on his role in the firings of several federal prosecutors.

Yet it was nonetheless widely believed both inside and outside the White House that he would walk out the door behind Bush at the end of his term in January 2009 and would help the president solidify his legacy before his exit.

Rove had vowed to build a lasting Republican majority, and some associates believed he would try to help his party keep the White House. But in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page is a favored outlet for Bush and his aides, he said he had no intention of getting involved in the 2008 presidential race.

Rove has portrayed the 2006 midterm elections as a temporary setback, and he said in the interview that he believed Republicans were still on track for victory in the next election.

He predicted that conditions in Iraq would improve – though he did not address speculation that the president will face pressure this fall, possibly even from fellow Republicans, to bring troops home sooner rather than later.

Rove said he intended to write a book, which had been encouraged by “the boss,” and eventually to teach.

Throughout Bush’s tenure, Rove vilified Democrats, and they vilified him right back, complaining about his famously bare-knuckle political tactics on the campaign trail and what they considered his overt politicization of the White House.

He has been the focus in the Congressional investigations into the firings last year of several federal prosecutors, and he was named in the CIA leak case investigation that led to a perjury conviction for Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Rove emerged from the cloud of the investigation to try to stave off Republican defeats last fall. The subsequent failure was his biggest political loss during his tenure at the White House.

Afterward, he continued to take a central role in major initiatives such as Bush’s failed attempt to create a new immigration law that would have legalized millions of undocumented workers currently living in the United States, many of them Hispanic. A political strategist who solidified his reputation by bringing together the sprawling coalition that put Bush in office, Rove saw Hispanics as a vast new source of Republican voters.

Rove was in the eye of the political storm once again this year as Congress set out to learn his role in the prosecutors’ firings, which critics charge had been carried out to impede or spark investigations for partisan aims.

That investigation, and others, have raised new questions about Rove’s dual role as political adviser and a senior policy aide with wide latitude to pull the levers of government – while briefing even members of the diplomatic corps on the political landscape and the electoral vulnerabilities of the Democrats. The White House cited executive privilege in blocking the testimony of Rove before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In his Wall Street Journal interview Monday, Rove said he knew that some people might suspect he was leaving office to avoid scrutiny, but added “I’m not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.”

He said he believed the probing would continue after he left the White House because of what he called the “myth” of his influence, which he referred to as “the Mark of Rove.”

But from the time he leaves office, Rove will no longer have the protection of White House lawyers and will be largely on his own when it comes to dealing with Congressional subpoenas.

The White House has provided cover for some former aides by issuing letters directing them not to testify about their privileged conversations with the president or to answer only a limited set of potential questions.

In his interview Monday, which was with the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Gigot, Rove had a parting shot for his political nemesis, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, telling Gigot that he believed she would be the Democratic nominee. Rove called her a “tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate” and predicted a Republican victory in the 2008 presidential race.

It is the sort of political boasting that became Rove’s hallmark.