August 6, 2005C.I.A. Leak Case Recalls Texas Incident in '92 Race
By ELISABETH BUMILLERLink Here
WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 - These hot months here will be remembered as the summer of the leak, a time when the political class obsessed on a central question: did Karl Rove, President Bush's powerful adviser, commit a crime when he spoke about a C.I.A. officer with the columnist Robert D. Novak?
Whatever a federal grand jury investigating the case decides, a small political subgroup is experiencing the odd sensation that this leak has sprung before. In 1992 in an incident well known in Texas, Mr. Rove was fired from the state campaign to re-elect the first President Bush on suspicions that Mr. Rove had leaked damaging information to Mr. Novak about Robert Mosbacher Jr., the campaign manager and the son of a former commerce secretary.
Since then, Mr. Rove and Mr. Novak have denied that Mr. Rove was the source, even as Mr. Mosbacher, who no longer talks on the record about the incident, has never changed his original assertion that Mr. Rove was the culprit.
"It's history," Mr. Mosbacher said last week in a brief telephone interview. "I commented on it at the time, and I have nothing to add."
But the episode, part of the bad-boy lore of Mr. Rove, is a telling chapter in the 20-year friendship between the presidential adviser and the columnist. The story of that relationship, a bond of mutual self-interest of a kind that is long familiar in Washington, does not answer the question of who might have leaked the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, to reporters, potentially a crime.
But it does give a clue to Mr. Rove's frequent and complimentary mentions over the years in Mr. Novak's column, and to the importance of Mr. Rove and Mr. Novak to each other's ambitions.
"They've known each for a long time, but they are not close friends," said a person who knows both men and who asked not to be named because of the investigation into a conversation by Mr. Novak and Mr. Rove in July 2003 about Ms. Wilson, part of a case that has put a reporter for The New York Times, Judith Miller, in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury.
The two men share a love of history and policy, as well as reputations as aggressive partisans and hotheads.
People who have been officially briefed on the case have said Mr. Rove was the second of two senior administration officials cited by Mr. Novak in his column of July 14, 2003, that identified Ms. Wilson by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, and said she was a C.I.A. operative.
The larger question has been whether Mr. Rove might have been using the columnist to confirm Ms. Plame's identity to punish or undermine her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had accused the Bush administration of leading the nation to war with Iraq on false pretenses.
Mr. Novak, who stalked out of a live program on CNN on Thursday after uttering a profanity on the air, declined to be interviewed for this article.
The anchor of the program, "Inside Politics," Ed Henry, has said he was preparing later in the broadcast to ask Mr. Novak about his role in the leak case.
Mr. Rove also declined to be interviewed.
But Mr. Novak, through his office manager, Kathleen Connolly, provided the information about his first encounter with Mr. Rove. Mr. Novak, by his recollection, met Mr. Rove in Texas in the mid-80's, when Mr. Novak turned up to write columns about the state's shifting out of Democrats' hands into those of Republicans.
In those years, Mr. Rove regularly had dinner with Mr. Novak when the columnist went to Austin. Mr. Rove, in his mid-30's, was a rising political operator who in 1981 founded his direct-mail consulting firm, Karl Rove & Company. Gov. William P. Clements, a Republican, was one of his first clients.
Mr. Novak, in his mid-50's, was big political game for Mr. Rove. He was the other half, with Rowland Evans Jr., of a much read and increasingly conservative column that was syndicated by The Chicago Sun-Times and published weekly in The Washington Post. Evans and Novak, as it was called - Mr. Evans retired in 1993 -closely chronicled the Reagan era, and it would have been a sign of Mr. Rove's arrival on the national scene for Mr. Novak to mention him in print.
Still, a computer search of Mr. Novak's columns shows that Mr. Rove's name did not appear under his byline until 1992, when Mr. Novak wrote the words that got Mr. Rove into such trouble.
"A secret meeting of worried Republican power brokers in Dallas last Sunday reflected the reality that George Bush is in serious trouble in trying to carry his adopted state," the column began.
The column said that the campaign run by Mr. Mosbacher was a "bust" and that he had been stripped of his authority at the "secret meeting" by Senator Phil Gramm, the top Republican in the state.
Also at the meeting, Mr. Novak reported, was "political consultant Karl Rove, who had been shoved aside by Mosbacher."
Specifically, Mr. Mosbacher told The Houston Chronicle in 2003 that he had given a competitor of Mr. Rove the bulk of a $1 million contract for direct mail work in the campaign.
"I thought another firm was better," Mr. Mosbacher told The Chronicle. "I had $1 million for direct mail. I gave Rove a contract for $250,000 and $750,000 to the other firm."
The other firm belonged to Mr. Rove's chief competitor, John Weaver, and Mr. Rove was so angry, Texas Republicans say, that he retaliated by leaking the information about Mr. Mosbacher to Mr. Novak.
Mr. Mosbacher fired Mr. Rove. As a result, Mr. Weaver, who later faced off against Mr. Rove as the political director of Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000, walked away with Mr. Rove's $250,000, too.
"That's about the only time that a Novak column benefited me," Mr. Weaver said this week in a telephone interview.
Mr. Rove again turned up in Mr. Novak's columns in 1999, when Gov. George W. Bush was running for president. Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush's national campaign strategist, was quoted briefly on the record in at least three columns, even though Mr. Novak has said on CNN, "I can't tell you anything I ever talked to Karl Rove about, because I don't think I ever talked to him about any subject, even the time of day, on the record."
Whether Mr. Novak forgot about the 1999 mentions is unclear. What is clear is that Mr. Rove has made frequent appearances in Mr. Novak's column in a positive light, often in paragraphs that imparted information about the inner workings of Mr. Bush's operation, feeding perceptions here that Mr. Rove is one of the columnist's most important anonymous sources.
In April 2000, under the headline "Bush Thriving Without Insiders," Mr. Novak wrote of the fears of the Republican old guard about the triumvirate of "rookies" in Austin - led by Mr. Rove - who were running Mr. Bush's "supposedly fading" presidential campaign.
"Actually," Mr. Novak wrote, "the Austin triumvirate has managed the most effective Republican campaign since Dwight D. Eisenhower's in 1952."
Last December, Mr. Novak wrote that the "retention of John Snow as secretary of the treasury was viewed in the capital's inner circles as a defeat for presidential adviser Karl Rove, who wanted a high-profile manager of President Bush's second-term economic program."
Although Mr. Novak did not directly debunk that view, he did suggest a different turn of events when he wrote that two Wall Street executives had said no to the position and that it was "decided at the White House to relieve Snow from his uncertainty and keep him in office."
These days, friends of the two men say they have not seen Mr. Rove and Mr. Novak at dinner together and note that there is little the two would have to celebrate. But in June 2003, The Chicago Sun-Times gave a party for Mr. Novak at the Army and Navy Club here to salute 40 years of his columns.
The biggest political celebrity guest, to no one's surprise, was Mr. Rove.