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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Karl Rove and the GSA

Politics Served Up At A Brown-Bag Lunch

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial

Most people have never heard of Lurita Alexis Doan, but she figures prominently in yet another scandal emerging from the Bush White House. Doan is the head of the General Services Administration, which has a $60 billion budget to manage federal properties and procure equipment for government employees. The GSA's regional headquarters in Philadelphia supports federal employees in about 70 government-owned buildings and more than 600 leased facilities in six states. It's one of those big, faceless government agencies that you never knew existed until someone inside it goes on a power trip.

President Bush appointed Doan in April 2006 to become the first woman to lead the GSA. Over the previous decade, she and her husband had donated more than $225,000 to Republican candidates.

Now would be a good time in this tale to remind everyone of a federal law called the Hatch Act. Enacted in 1939, the law prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities on the job. The basis for the law is that federal employees work for all taxpayers, not just Democratic or Republican ones.

The Democrat-controlled House is investigating whether Doan violated the Hatch Act for a meeting she hosted at the GSA on Jan. 26. In attendance at this brown-bag lunch were more than 40 political appointees from around the country, participating via teleconference. They saw a PowerPoint presentation from J. Scott Jennings, who happens to be deputy political director to Karl Rove, the president's political guru.

Jennings, according to witnesses, gave the federal employees a run-down on the GOP's prospects in the 2008 congressional elections. He included a list of the top 20 House Democrats targeted for defeat, as well as the Republican incumbents who most need support.

At least two GSA officials have told investigators under oath that Doan asked Jennings: "How can we use GSA to help our candidates in the next election?" She claims she doesn't remember saying that. Conveniently, she doesn't remember much of anything that would portray the meeting in a partisan light. And the meeting took place only a little more than two months ago. She does remember there were cookies on a tray.

Doan, in testimony to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, characterized the session as a "team-building" meeting. That's laughable. It was a partisan rally, and it fits in perfectly with Rove's long-term plan to create a permanent Republican majority. That plan, thank goodness, is in tatters, but Rove keeps plugging.

If the session had no political purpose, why did a White House employee send advance material to Doan's office using a Republican National Committee e-mail address, and warn the GSA, "Please do not e-mail this out or let people see it"?

If this meeting wasn't a violation of the Hatch Act, it's hard to imagine what would be. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) has given Rove until April 13 to answer several questions, among them: Did Rove approve of the slide show? Has the White House political shop given this presentation to any other federal employees during business hours on government property?

They are excellent questions, and deserve prompt answers. The days when Bush White House operatives could simply refuse to answer any questions they didn't feel like answering should be over.

© 2007 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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