Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Some conservatives question Rove's future


Some conservatives question Rove's future

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Breaking with the White House and fellow conservatives, Republican Sen. Trent Lott and the head of the Cato Institute questioned on Tuesday whether top White House adviser Karl Rove, who remains in legal jeopardy in a CIA-leak probe, should keep his policy-making job.

Rove was not indicted on Friday along with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby. But lawyers involved in the case said Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser and deputy chief of staff, remains under investigation and may still be charged by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

The identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame was leaked to the media in July 2003 after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Despite initial White House denials, Fitzgerald's investigation shows that both Rove and Libby spoke to reporters about Wilson's wife.

Lott of Mississippi and William Niskanen of the libertarian Cato Institute both echoed Democratic calls for a White House shake-up.

"He (Rove) has been very successful, very effective in the political arena. The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?" Lott told MSNBC's "Hardball."

"Most presidents in recent years have a political adviser in the White House. The question is, should they be, you know, making policy decisions. That's the question you've got to evaluate," the former Senate Republican leader added.

Lott went further than he did on Sunday, when he urged Bush to be on the lookout for "new blood, new energy, qualified staff."

Niskanen, who served as a top economic adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, said, "Bush is going to have to sacrifice people who have worked with him to regain some initiative."

Niskanen said any White House shake-up should "start" with Rove because of his association with the leak case.

"He's provided good political judgment on campaigns, but not good political judgment on getting legislation through," Niskanen told Reuters.

So far, the White House has rebuffed calls for an overhaul in response to Libby's indictment. "Karl Rove continues to do his duties," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

When asked if Bush retained confidence in Rove, McClellan said on Monday: "People who work here at the White House have the confidence of the president."

A Republican strategist with ties to the White House said any personnel changes would be gradual to avoid the appearance that the White House was panicking.

Libby is expected to plead innocent to charges of obstructing justice, perjury and lying when he is arraigned on Thursday.

Fitzgerald was expected to decide within weeks whether to bring charges against Rove. Lawyers involved in the case said Rove provided new information last week to Fitzgerald that prompted him to reconsider charging Bush's top political adviser with making false statements.