The most intriguing line from Karl Rove's interview with Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, announcing his surprise resignation, is the description of his biggest failure in the 2006 mid-term election, in which Democrats won control of both houses of congress. "His biggest error," Gigot wrote, "was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal."
The assertion comes, of course, from a man who is now effectively having himself replaced, just before the 2008 presidential campaign shifts into full gear. Should we think of Rove's resignation as his attempt to avoid making the same mistake twice?
The intriguing possibility that Rove is resigning because of some impending scandal is not one he denies in the Journal interview. Rather than saying "no" in response to a question whether he is resigning because of congressional scrutiny, he admits only that that is a predictable speculation.
"I know they'll say that," he responds to Gigot, "But I'm not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob." Of course, Gigot did not ask him about whether Rove was stepping down to please the mob. He asked if he was trying to evade congressional scrutiny.
And there's reason to believe that such scrutiny may, in fact, be closing in on Rove. In late July, the House Judiciary Committee published an interim report [pdf] on the committee's investigation into the firing of at least nine US attorneys.
The report provides a good deal of evidence to suggest that several top justice department officials lied to cover up calls from Senator Pete Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans, made just before and after the 2006 election, seeking to have New Mexico's US attorney, David Iglesias, fired.
Rove was subpoenaed to testify about these matters before the Senate judiciary committee on August 1. But he refused to even show up, citing a letter from White House counsel Fred Fielding invoking executive privilege. Committee chairman Patrick Leahy noted at the time that "Karl Rove, who is now refusing to comply with Senate subpoenas, spoke publicly in speeches about these firings when the scandal first broke, but is suddenly unable to talk it about when he is under oath?"
Leahy went on to echo the language of the house of representatives judiciary committee report, suggesting that Rove was part of the cover-up of the reasons for the firings of US attorneys. "Mr. Rove has given reasons for the firings that have now been shown to be inaccurate after-the-fact fabrications. Yet, he now refuses to tell this committee the truth about his role in targeting well-respected US attorneys for firing and in seeking to cover up his role and that of his staff in the scandal."
On the same day Rove was scheduled to testify, the justice department released still more emails [pdf] relating to the firings, adding to the evidence that there was a concerted cover-up of the reasons for Iglesias' firing.
Clearly, the Democrats on Congress's judiciary committees suspect Rove may have something to hide. And they continue to accumulate evidence supporting that claim.
The possibility that Rove resigned because of this scandal is all the more interesting given a little-noticed report implicating George Bush himself in the Iglesias firing - with Rove acting as the broker between Senator Domenici and Bush. This administration has successfully used a senior aide as a firewall in the past. Is something similar going on here?
It might also be that Rove's resignation has more to do with the upcoming Presidential elections. Perhaps he plans - as many have speculated - to work for one of the Republican candidates for president. But, as Leahy stated in response to Rove's resignation, "There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelops Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."
Given how quickly this storm is gathering, it's not clear any other Republicans would want that cloud anywhere near their presidential campaign.
Marcy Wheeler writes under the pseudonym "emptywheel" at the blogs The Next Hurrah and Firedoglake. She is the author of the Anatomy of Deceit and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial. She is based in Michigan.
© 2007 The Guardian