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Karl Rove wields power, stirs controversy

Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff,  is revered by supporters as the brilliant architect of President Bush's electoral victories and reviled by opponents as a ruthless political operative.
Deputy chief of staff and top presidential political adviser Karl Rove could face charges in the leak of a CIA officer's identity.Ron Edmonds / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, one of Washington's most powerful and polarizing figures, is revered by supporters as the brilliant architect of President Bush's electoral victories and reviled by opponents as a ruthless political operative.

Rove, President Bush’s closest adviser, escaped indictment Friday in the CIA leak case, but  remained under investigation, his legal status a looming political problem for the White House.

Far more than his official title suggests, deputy White House chief of staff Rove has played a powerful behind-the-scenes role, with a hand in everything from politics to foreign policy to personnel decisions.

Credited with keeping Bush relentlessly on message and defining the candidate with a focused set of issues, Rove, 54, can be brusque, single-minded and at times mischievous.

"Level an opponent, leave no evidence" is how The Dallas Morning News summed up Rove's strategy as Texas' top political operative.

Critics have long accused Rove of using leaks and stunts to damage his political opponents.

A decade ago, he was credited with leaking to a reporter that a rising Democratic political star, whose resume said she was a top graduate of the University of Texas, didn't have a degree.

In the 1986 Texas governor's race, Rove said he found an eavesdropping device in his office. Democrats accused Republicans of setting up the incident to stir publicity.

Political opponents say Rove also played a behind-the-scenes role in "whisper campaigns" against Ann Richards, whom Bush defeated in the 1994 governor's race, and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whom Bush knocked out of the 2000 presidential race.

At the height of last year's presidential campaign, critics tried to link Rove to attacks on Democratic rival John Kerry's Vietnam war record. The White House denied any involvement in the attacks, launched by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

"He's a brilliant political strategist, and he's proved brilliantly effective at destroying Democrats personally," former President Clinton said in a July interview with NBC's "Today" show. "I mean, they've gotten away with murder, and he's really good at it."

30-year friendship
Rove first met Bush while working at the Republican National Committee in the mid-1970s and revived the friendship when he moved to Austin in 1981 to set up shop as a political consultant.

In 1994, Rove helped the neophyte politician win his first elective office as governor of Texas. With Rove at his side, Bush repeated in 1998, winning in a landslide and becoming the first Texas governor to be elected to back-to-back, four-year terms.

In a sign of Rove's clout in the Texas Capitol in those days, then-governor Bush scrawled on a photo, which hung in Rove's office, "To Karl, the man with the plan."

Rove was a protege of the late Lee Atwater, who played a key role in the 1988 presidential campaign of Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. Like Atwater, Rove is well known for employing a strategy of attacking an opponent on the opponent's strongest issue.

When Bush declared his bid for the presidency, Rove sold his company to devote all his attention to the campaign.

Since coming to the White House, Rove's influence has expanded far beyond setting political strategy. One of his tasks was to lead the secretive White House Iraq Group, which set strategy for selling the Iraq war to the public. The group's work became a focus of the leak investigation.

He has become a driving force behind administration policy, and Bush recently put him in charge of coordinating internal White House domestic, economic and national security policy councils.

After shaping policies, Rove makes sure Republican constituents follow them.

Some have attributed the Republican backlash over Bush's slow response to Hurricane Katrina and against his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers to the fact that Rove has been distracted by the Plame case.

Born in Colorado and raised in several Western states, Rove attended the University of Utah but left before graduating. He began his political career during former President Richard Nixon's administration as head of the nationwide College Republicans.