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Karl Rove to leave White House at month's end

Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind President Bush’s races for the White House and an adviser with unparalleled influence over the past 6½ turbulent years, announced his resignation Monday, ending a partnership stretching back more than three decades.   [!]
/ Source: The Associated Press

Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind President Bush’s races for the White House and an adviser with unparalleled influence over the past 6½ turbulent years, announced his resignation Monday, ending a partnership stretching back more than three decades.

It was a major loss for Bush as he heads into the twilight of his presidency, battered in the polls, facing a hostile Democratic Congress and waging an unpopular war. A half dozen other senior advisers have left in recent months, forcing the White House to rebuild its staff at the same time the president is running out of influence.

“I’ll be on the road behind you here in a little bit,” said a rueful Bush, announcing the departure alongside Rove on the White House South Lawn. Bush leaves office Jan. 20, 2009.

Bush nicknamed Rove “the architect” and “boy genius” for successfully plotting two national election strategies and helping strengthen Republican majorities in Congress in 2002 and 2004.

Critics derisively called him “Bush’s brain.” During Bush’s presidency, he has been one of Washington’s most powerful and controversial figures.

'A witness to history'
The president appeared glum as he joined Rove for the announcement. “Karl Rove is moving on down the road,” Bush said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and we’re still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend.”

Rove, his voice shaking with emotion, told Bush, “I’m grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime.”

He said it had been more than 14 years since he helped Bush run for governor of Texas and 10 years since they began plotting the first race for the White House. Rove said it was time to “start thinking about the next chapter in our family’s life.”

After a lengthy hug from Bush and then Laura Bush, Rove joined them on the president’s helicopter. Rove, his wife and their son flew with Bush on Air Force One to Texas, where the president began his August vacation.

Rove has been no stranger to controversy in Washington. He came under scrutiny in a criminal investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s name.

He testified five times before a federal grand jury, occasionally correcting misstatements he made in his earlier testimony, but he was never charged with any crime.

The trial of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of lying and obstructing justice established that Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the name of the CIA officer, Valerie Plame.

In a more recent controversy, Rove refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys, citing executive privilege.

Rove said his resignation would not stop lawmakers from investigating him.

“I’m Moby Dick and we’ve got three or four members of Congress who are trying to cast themselves in the part of Captain Ahab,” Rove said. “So they’re going to keep coming.”

'A very competitive guy'
Brainy and combative, Rove was the most polarizing aide in the White House. He urged an uncompromising, take-no-prisoners stand in political battles.

“Karl Rove was an architect of a political strategy that has left the country more divided, the special interests more powerful, and the American people more shut out from their government than any time in memory,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said.

In a telephone interview from the plane, Rove said his departure should not be taken as a sign of decline in Bush’s presidency.

“Look, he’s a very competitive guy,” Rove said of Bush. “None of us is indispensable or unreplaceable except (Bush) and Dick Cheney, and they ain’t going anywhere. And he will use every lever at his command and use every power that he’s got as president — which is considerable.”

“I think it will be wishful thinking on the part of the president’s critics to think this means anything other than a staff change at the White House,” Rove said.

'A major factor'
White House officials readily acknowledged that Rove’s departure was a blow. Known as a ruthless political warrior, Rove possessed a love of history, an encyclopedic command of political minutiae and a wonkish love of policy.

“Karl is going to be missed,” said White House counselor Ed Gillespie, who got his job in June when another longtime Bush loyalist, Dan Bartlett, resigned. “Obviously those of us who are staying in place need to pick up our game and step up. It’s going to be hard. Karl is a major, major factor. But we can do it.”

“The last 18 months, having a fresh set of eyes and advisers, is not necessarily a bad thing,” Bartlett said. “Karl will be missed. He cuts a large swath.”

In addition to engineering two presidential campaigns, Rove helped Republicans strengthen their majorities in Congress in 2002 and 2004.

“He created an overarching political strategy that enabled the Republican Party to achieve tremendous national success for five years, beyond what it would have done, through his intellect, his knowledge and his discipline,” said GOP strategist Frank Luntz. “He built a governing coalition that held until November 2006” when Democrats took control of Congress.

Skillful in campaigns, he was less successful in helping Bush govern, particularly in the second term. After boasting he had political capital to spend, Bush failed to win his major policy goals: reforming the immigration system, overhauling the tax system and remaking Social Security and putting it on a path to solvency. Rove was forced to relinquish his role as chief policy coordinator last year but, aides said, he never lost his influence with the president.

On board from the beginning
Rove, speaking with reporters on Air Force One, said he had friends in all the Republican presidential campaigns but did not intend to take a formal role with any of them. “I do want to see this president succeeded by a Republican. I’ll be happy to — you know, if they ask my opinion — I’m an opinionated person.” On the Democratic side, he said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton “is a prohibitive favorite to win the nomination.”

He also said he would write a book, with Bush’s encouragement. Some publishing houses expressed interest but cautioned against expectations of big money, in part because the book was sanctioned by Bush.

Rove, currently the deputy White House chief of staff, met Bush in the early 1970s when both men were in their 20s. Rove was a special assistant to Bush’s father, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

He was on board from the beginning of Bush’s political career, first helping Bush when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1978.