Thursday, August 13, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: The Rove Effect

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 13, 2009

Poring over transcripts of Karl Rove’s House Judiciary Committee testimony about his role in the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, I came across lots of names familiar in New Mexico political circles.

But I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw who Rove name-dropped on page 120 of his July 7 testimony: Someone who shares my cubicle at The New Mexican’s Capitol bureau.

This week’s release of transcripts, e-mails and other documents show that Rove, President Bush’s political adviser and a former deputy chief of staff, was more involved with the firing of Iglesias and other U.S. attorneys than originally known.

Rove was questioned by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., about an Oct. 2, 2006, article in the late lamented Albuquerque Tribune. The premise of the story was that now that the trial of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil was over, the next big corruption case involving a New Mexico Democrat would be a kickback scandal involving state Sen. Manny Aragon, the Albuquerque Democrat. Apparently former Republican National Committeeman Mickey Barnett -- who had been pushing to get rid of Igelesias -- had sent the story to Rove.

KATE NASH in Oct. 2006
Schiff quoted the article as saying, “Political insiders say that if the main suspects are Democrats, the shoe could drop before the Nov. 7 election. If there are Republicans in the mix, the office might want to avoid an ‘October surprise’ and seek indictments later, political observers say.”

Schiff asked Rove if this was "an accurate analysis.” Rove answered, “I have no idea who the unnamed political observers are who are talking to Kate Nash at the Albuquerque Tribune.”

Don’t feel bad Karl. I asked Kate, who works for this paper now, but she won’t tell me who her sources were, either.

Ripples in the governor’s race: The names of one probable Republican gubernatorial contender — former state Republican Chairman Allen Weh — and one possible governor candidate — former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson — were discussed in the Rove testimony. So you can bet Democratic opposition-research sharks have been burning their eyeballs going through the thousands of pages of documents released by the Judiciary Committee this week.

Iglesias has said he was fired as U.S. attorney for New Mexico partly because he didn’t indict Aragon in time to help with Wilson’s 2006 re-election. Among the documents released was an October 2006 e-mail chain. Wilson, then facing Democrat Patricia Madrid in a close election battle, sent an e-mail to her staff and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici’s chief of staff, Steve Bell.

Attached was a news story about an investigation into a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. Bell forwarded it to Rove aide Scott Jennings, commenting, “seems like other U.S. attorneys can do their work even in election season … ” Jennings sent it to Rove saying Iglesias had been “shy about doing his job on Madrid.”

On her Facebook page Wednesday, Wilson said her e-mail was not referring to Iglesias. She then dropped a bombshell about her opponent that year: “An FBI employee contacted my office in June 2006 and asked for any information we had concerning Attorney General Patricia Madrid and her connection to a Political Action Committee — Justice for America. I directed my staff to provide any information we had to the FBI and to cooperate with law enforcement.”

Wilson said the news story concerned her because of a possible FBI leak. “I believed it was possible we would see a similar leak from law enforcement concerning Mrs. Madrid and that we could be asked by the media to comment on it,” she said.

Apparently nothing ever became of that investigation. Madrid was never charged with any wrongdoing. Justice for America is still a registered PAC, headed by Madrid’s husband, Michael Messina. According to its most recent report in May, it had more than $415,000 in the bank.

A welcome endorsement? I can envision an attack ad springing out the following exchange during Rove’s testimony. Rep. Schiff read from an e-mail from Weh to Rove aide Jennings in which Weh complained about Iglesias.

Schiff then asked Rove about Weh. “Is he a friend of yours?” Schiff asked.

“He is a good friend of mine,” Rove said.

If Weh should win the nomination you can imagine those words surfacing again, followed by, “I’m Diane Denish and I approve this message.”