While Karl Rove's national book tour continues, reporters along the route should ask the important questions Rove has avoided or hasn't been asked by DC pundits and in a once-over-lightly Q&A by the House Judiciary Committee last summer.
Rove's Courage and Consequence tour puts him in seven states in the Midwest and South between now and early June, possibly in contact with many local and regional reporters who could make news if they ask good questions.
The questions should be focused. Rove served the first 6 years of the Bush presidency as senior advisor before leaving after the U.S. attorney firing scandal. Even his 596-page memoir can't reasonably cover that period and his life story except by generalized summaries and selective illustrations.
To drill down, I suggest asking about political prosecutions. These are instances of using Justice Department probes not to solve crimes but to destroy political opponents and their funding. My 18 months of ongoing research suggest that such prosecutions have greatly affected the public through altered government policies, both locally and nationally.
Evidence presented by the Judiciary majority shows that Justice Department chief of staff Kyle Sampson urged Rove in 2005 to rely on "loyal Bushies" to make prosecution decisions. Democrats in Congress later cited an academic study
showing that the Bush DOJ targeted Democrats over Republicans by almost 5 to 1 in 820 official corruption investigations. This altered the nation's political map and destroyed many political careers in a process that was largely secret.
The libertarian Cato Institute presented an expert seminar that I covered last fall in Nieman Watchdog
, preserved in a video
. I've since assembled case studies from around the nation at the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project
that I founded this year. We explore the past, as well as emerging evidence of tolerance for political prosecutions under the Obama administration.
Rove's memoir denies that he or others in the Bush White House exerted any improper role at the Justice Department. The book blames "conspiracy buffs" for suspicions he acted improperly in the 2006 U.S. attorney purge of such Republicans as New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, whose memoir, In Justice, sums up the unprecedented mid-term firings with a chapter entitled, "All Roads Lead to Rove."
Similarly, Rove dismisses as preposterous claims reported in the New York Times that he helped frame Alabama's Democratic former Gov. Don Siegelman in 2006 on corruption charges. Rove wrote:
One of the nation's least reliable papers was relying on two unreliable sources Dana Jill Simpson and Don Siegelman. Siegelman was trying to avoid prison. And Simpson, well, because I never met the woman, or had any of the dealings with her that she claims, I could only conclude that she must be a nut looking for a television camera and brief celebrity-hood.
Last month, I published
sharply worded retorts to Rove from Simpson and Siegelman. The latter, now 64, is free on bond but facing 20 additional years in prison. Simpson is an Alabama attorney who gave courts, Congress and CBS 60 Minutes in 2007 evidence that her fellow Republicans had worked for years to frame Siegelman for political purposes.
Each also attacked the Obama administration and the mainstream media for lax follow-up on evidence of political prosecutions. "By failing to restore justice," Siegelman told me, "they leave our democracy vulnerable to future subversions by those like Rove. By failing to investigate Karl Rove's subversion of our constitutional rights, abuse of power and the use of the DOJ as a political weapon, Congress and the mainstream media will be held in contempt by history."
A recent book
signing in Alabama shows the kind of questions reporters may want to ask. Usually reporters defer to Rove as a visiting celebrity and amplify his commentary, which he delivers also via his Newsweek and Wall Street Journal columns, and as a Fox News contributor. But not always. For example, the Birmingham News showed a protester photo demanding Rove's jailing, then had Rove repeating
his denial he helped frame Siegelman.
One reporter was very tough. Locust Fork News-Journal Publisher Glynn Wilson, who has written for the New York Times, had a column
entitled, "Karl "Turd Blossom' Rove Signs Books in Birmingham." In it was this exchange, unlike almost anything you'll see in the "respectable" press:
When the broadcast reporters seemed to be out of questions, I jumped in and asked the final question that set Rove back on his heels and basically ended the press conference.
Since Rove once made the claim that as Bush's so-called "brain" and "architect" he would deliver an American majority to the Republican Party for "a generation," and since that didn't quite work out after he was forced to resign from the White House along with then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez in August, 2007
, and since a black guy from Chicago named Barack Obama sort of stomped the Republican Party in the presidential election of 2008, I asked: "How does it feel to be an utter failure?"
Rove refused to answer the question.
When I identified myself as the editor and publisher of the Locust Fork News-Journal,Rove at first said, flippantly, "Never heard of it." Then he changed his response to, "Oh, yeah I have. That little website."
Rove had reason to remember the site. In 2007, Wilson had helped spur national coverage of how Simpson broke with her party to describe the impact of partisan prosecutors in a court affidavit to Siegelman's sentencing judge and later in testimony to Judiciary committee staff.
My suggested questions focus on developments in Alabama, including his 1990s work advising on how to transform Alabama's elective office-holders from primarily Democratic to Republican. Rove omits that period from his memoir, but a 2004 Atlantic piece
Siegelman has a long political history. In 1964, he was a student leader at Mobile's Murphy High School, the state's first to undergo court-ordered integration. (In the small world category, one of his classmates, I've been told, was a girl named Darby, later to become Rove's wife for 24 years until their divorce last winter.)
Alabama had been a center of massive resistance to integration led by Gov. George Wallace
. Siegelman advocated peaceful desegregation. He went on to win statewide office in Alabama almost continuously from 1978 to 2003.
Here, then, are suggested questions for Rove:
Q. Your Wall Street Journal column last summer derided Simpson as a publicity-seeker, and claimed she didn't have the nerve to make her allegations under oath. But that was wrong and she promptly requested a correction from you and the Journal. Did you publish one? If not, why not?
In your House Judiciary testimony
last July, you said your national responsibilities prevented you from following the Siegelman case and Alabama politics closely. In your memoir, you wrote, "I almost felt sorry for my chief interrogator, California Congressman Adam Schiff. He clearly was not prepared." Suppose the congressman and his colleagues had asked you a simple question: Did you and your wife host some of Siegelman's prosecutors at a party at your Rosemary Beach home in March 2007 about eight months after his conviction, not long before he was sentenced? If yes, was there any particular reason for that party?
Q. Federal courts have just ordered a new trial for the Garza family in Texas, who allege they were prosecuted because they refused to hire the corrupt DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff to represent their Kickapoo tribal business for their state's first gambling casino. Out of all the people in the world you could have hired as your top assistant at the White House, why did you hire Abramoff's former assistant Susan Ralston? Did you ever talk with her about Indian tribal casinos, Justice Department prosecutions or inviting Abramoff to the White House?
Q. Would you be willing to square off in a sworn setting against David Iglesias, the first U.S. attorney for New Mexico in 2001 and a prosecutor who entitled a book chapter "All Roads Lead to Rove" in his book about his political purge in 2006?
Bush, Rove, Abramoff, Garza at White House
- President George W. Bush meets Kickapoo Tribal Chief Raul Garza, center, with Karl Rove partially visible at right and lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the background over President's left shoulder (White House photo).
In late March, I sent Rove the first two questions to check the facts for this article. The last need no preamble because of such hearings as a unanimous Senate Indian Affairs Committee report in 2006 that asserted that Abramoff arranged vast sums from Indian casinos in Mississippi to fight Siegelman and his plan for an Alabama lottery to compete with casinos.
I invited Rove to call in to my weekly public affairs radio
show as a featured guest at his convenience to discuss his book. Karl Rove & Co. Chief of Staff Sheena Tahilramani responded with a pleasant email that I received at 12:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday.
She granted permission for me to use his photo and book jacket. "As far as any background on this subject," she wrote, "it's just not something Karl's able to delve into while he's in the middle of the tour. I've already got him fully committed and his plate is full. Thanks for reaching out."
Clearly, Rove and his staff are hard-working, professional and successful.But let's not miss the unique opportunity of a local book tour to learn more than his memoir provides about what he's doing.