The Permanent Republican Majority: Part III - Running elections from the White House
|Larisa Alexandrovna, Muriel Kane and Lindsay Beyerstein|
Published: Sunday December 16, 2007
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Lobbyist pressured to recant story about Abramoff meeting Rove on street corner
Part I of this series explored the long-term involvement of two men -- GOP consultant Bill Canary and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor -- in the events leading to the imprisonment last summer of former Alabama Democratic governor Don Siegelman.
That train of events began in 1998, when Canary managed Pryor's campaign for re-election as Alabama attorney general. Immediately afterwards, Pryor began the investigation of Siegelman that eventually led to the newly-elected governor's conviction on corruption charges in 2006.
Canary's wife, Leura Canary, federalized Pryor's investigation in 2001, after President George W. Bush appointed her as US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Closely tied to Pryor, whose campaign was advised by her husband, Canary also appointed the wife of the Attorney General's lawyer and close advisor, Christopher Weller, as her first assistant.
As Canary's investigation proceeded, Siegelman's potential Republican challengers began to hammer him hard on ethics issues, drawing heavily on leaks from the Pryor and Canary investigations to do so. In a letter to the Department of Justice requesting Leura Canary's recusal, Siegelman's lawyer noted that he had traced the leaks to a source in Bill Canary's office. There is no evidence that the Justice Department ever investigated any of these leaks.
In the 2002 race for Alabama governor, Bill Canary advised the campaign of Siegelman's Republican opponent, Rep. Bob Riley. Pryor ensured Riley's victory in that extremely close race when he declared that unsealing the ballots for a recount would be a crime.
The following April, Pryor was nominated by George W. Bush to serve as a federal judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He was eventually installed by a recess appointment, against the objections of Senate Democrats.
Bill Canary, Karl Rove, and the 2002 Elections
Karl Rove is known to have worked with Bill Canary on numerous political races in Alabama, beginning in 1994 and including William Pryor's campaign in 1998. Canary and Pryor both enjoyed a close political and social relationship with Rove — who went on to become a senior adviser to the president, before Bush's "brain" resigned earlier this year.
Two Republican lawyers who have asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation allege that Canary and Rove also worked together on the 2002 Alabama governor's race. One of the lawyers is close to the Republican National Committee in Alabama.
According to the lawyers, Rove and Canary initially supported Republican Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom in his bid for the nomination to challenge Governor Siegelman but then switched their allegiance to Rep. Bob Riley after his victory in the primary. The Windom campaign was well known to be sluggish, however, prompting many observers to wonder just how serious an undertaking it really was.
By 2002, George W. Bush was president and Karl Rove was working in the White House as his special assistant with the highest level of security clearances. Rove, however, did not lose his security clearances, even after he was identified as one of the sources in the CIA leak case, in which the cover of covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed to journalists in 2003 as an apparent act of reprisal against her husband Joseph Wilson.
Rove could not be reached for comment for this article. A call placed to the White House for forwarding information was answered but not returned.
Windom, after being told about the article and the name of this publication, said, "I’m not interested, thanks.”
According to the Alabama RNC source, Rove met regularly with operatives for the Riley campaign. The source's allegations are confirmed in part by campaign disclosure forms, which show that Windom paid Canary as a consultant between 1999 and early 2001 and later received large contributions from Canary's business partner, a pattern that is duplicated with Riley and Canary.
According to public records, Windom paid Canary's firm $38,022 for consulting and polling between 1999 and 2001. At the same time, PACs associated with Canary's business partner, Patrick McWhorter, donated heavily to Windom's campaign, contributing $149,000 in 2001 and another $75,000 in 2002.
After Windom lost the primary, PACs associated with McWhorter and Canary switched their donations to Bob Riley, giving him $85,000 in the days immediately preceding the November election. After the election victory, Windom emerged immediately as a close confidant of Riley's, advising him on the appointment of a new Insurance Commissioner, Walter A. Bell, and other matters. Canary also emerged as a key Riley advisor.
Public records also show that at the same time Canary was consulting for Bob Riley's campaign, his lobbying group, the Business Council for Alabama, donated $678,000 to the campaign of his client. This was the third largest donation the campaign received, exceeded only by those from the Republican National State Elections Committee, for $2,475,000, and from Bob Riley himself, who contributed $1,070,000 to his own campaign.
Rove on the Corner
Rove's meetings with Riley campaign operatives are said to have taken place on street corners in Washington at prearranged times. "Riley's people went up to DC and had a couple of meetings with [Rove]," one of the Republican attorneys stated. In addition, Rove and his wife purchased a property in Rosemary Beach, Florida in November of 2002, about 2-1/2 hour drive from Alabama’s capital – Montgomery, a little over an hour's drive from Mobile, and less than an hour by jet.
"He would never discuss anything on the phone. He would tell you to meet him at some corner and then you get there and sure enough he is standing in the middle of the intersection waving at you."
Riley did not return calls seeking comment.
These allegations are similar to those made by consultant Marc Schwartz in The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power by James Moore and Wayne Slater, describing a meeting that took place in March of 2002:
"I gotta meet Rove," Jack Abramoff told Schwartz one afternoon as they talked in the backseat of the lobbyist's car. Abramoff's driver, Joseph, was working his way through the crowded streets of Washington. The lobbyist gave Joseph a location for a rendezvous, and he set a course in the direction of the White House.
"Really?" Schwartz asked. "We're going to the White House?"
"No. No. We don't do that," Abramoff answered.
"Why not?" Schwartz joked. "I'm sure George would want to see me."
…He explained to Schwartz why they were not going to see Karl Rove at the White House.
"They've got movement logs over there and everything, and we like to keep things kind of quiet. So just watch. You'll really get a kick out of it."
A few minutes later, Abramoff pointed through the front windshield at an approaching street corner and turned to smile at Schwartz.
"You recognize him?" the lobbyist asked his client.
"Son of a bitch," Schwartz muttered. "He's just out in the middle of the street."
Moore told RAW STORY that Schwartz tried to backtrack on his remarks after his book's publication.
"After telling us a story with great detail about being in a car with
Jack Abramoff as he met with Karl Rove on a Washington street corner,
Marc Schwartz then clammed up," Moore said last week. "When our book, The Architect, was published and national news political correspondents realized Schwartz had told the only first hand story of a meeting between Rove and Abramoff, Schwartz began to get phone calls.
"His approach was to dissemble and deny his own words, which was not very productive since we were in possession of notes and the conversation had been recorded," Moore added. "He got numerous calls from network television news producers but refused to sit for a TV interview citing concerns about his business and professional life in El Paso, claiming GOP political connections in his work that Rove could pressure to harm Schwartz's income."
The Hatch Act
Under the Hatch Act of 1939, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. The Act provides an exemption, however, for an employee paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President.
According to former Nixon counsel and legal Scholar John Dean, Rove would have been exempt.
"The Hatch Act does not apply to the president's immediate staff," Dean told RAW STORY last week.
Marthena Cowart, Director of Communications for the Project for Government Oversight, concurred, saying in an early Thursday phone conversation that "it is because [Karl Rove] is paid via the Appropriations Committees, so yes, he would be exempt."
Yet the Hatch Act was one reason given by the White House to explain why email accounts on Republican National Committee servers were used by White House senior aides in preference to White House email accounts – they claimed they didn't want to use federal resources for political campaigns.
Although the use of these these accounts had been known for some time, they came under increased scrutiny last April as a result of the US Attorneys scandal "because some White House aides used them to help plan the U.S. attorneys' ouster. Democrats were questioning whether the use of the GOP-provided e-mail accounts was proof that the firings were political."
"The Republican National Committee set up the accounts for about 20 Bush aides, such as Karl Rove and his deputies, who get involved in politics, spokesman Scott Stanzel told AP earlier this year.
"Having the GOP create non-White House addresses and provide separate BlackBerries, laptops and other communications gear was designed to avoid running afoul of Hatch Act rules barring federal employees from engaging in political activities with government resources or on government time," he added.
Rove's resignation had no effect on the ongoing Office of Special Counsel probe of alleged Hatch Act violations, however a spokesman noted, "Once a person leaves government service, they are out of our jurisdiction."
A Web of Rovian Connections
Since most of the Riley campaign's services were provided by local Alabama firms, the few payments it made to companies that operated on a national level stand out sharply. The most eye-catching of these is a payment of $100,000 in November 2002, which went to Mentzer Media Services of Towson, MD for a last-minute advertising campaign. A very similar payment of $85,000 had gone to the same firm from Steve Windom's campaign just before the June 2002 primary.
Mentzer Media is best known for having handled the advertising for the two most prominent attack groups of the 2004 presidential election -- the Progress for America Voter Fund and the Swift Boat Veterans.
Progress for America was founded in 2001 by Tony Feather, a former Bush-Cheney 2000 political director who had known Karl Rove since the 1970's and had worked with him on political campaigns in the 1980's and 1990's. During the year leading up to the 2004 elections, PFA solicited soft-money donations and poured $29 million into supporting Bush's reelection campaign, $27 million of which went to Mentzer Media. Most of that was spent on a massive last-minute advertising campaign featuring an ad in which Bush comforted a girl whose father had died on 9/11. Almost as much -- $19 million -- was paid to Mentzer by the Swift Boat Veterans for ads attacking John Kerry.
The Swift Boat Veterans and PFA were linked in other ways besides their use of Mentzer Media, both employing the same legal expert on election law and the same media advisor. There were widespread suspicions at the time that Rove was closer to both groups than campaign laws allowed.
For example, the New York Times noted that the primary backers of the Swift Boat Veterans were wealthy Texans, including "two men with ties to the president and his family -- one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's. ... Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush's top political aide, recently said through a spokeswoman that he and Mr. [Bob] Perry were longtime friends, though he said they had not spoken for at least a year. Mr. Rove and Mr. Perry have been associates since at least 1986, when they both worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Bill Clements."
Salon.com further pointed out that "Rove had already convinced Perry to begin raising money to elect state judges -- funds used to help launch the Texas Civil Justice League. The Civil Justice League was Rove's initial surrogate organization and carried the message that trial lawyers were bad people who were screwing up the business climate with frivolous lawsuits. The chorus singing about the evils of lawyers in Texas was later joined by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (an organization that Rove helped grow and with which he maintains close contact today), and yet another front group called Texans for Lawsuit Reform. ... Thus an entirely artificial movement, conceived and funded by Rove, was used to change the state's judicial system and, of course, became an essential step in Rove's master plan to elect Bush governor and then president."
When Karl Rove started working with William Canary in Alabama in 1994, it was as a direct extension of the strategy for electing pro-corporate Republican judges that he had begun in Texas. Rove's first major victory in Alabama was the election of Judge Perry Hooper in a race that was decided only after a year-long legal battle resulted in the disqualification of 2000 absentee ballot, making Hooper the victor by a mere 262 votes.
When viewed in the context of a long-term plan to make the Republican Party dominant in Alabama, events in that state in 2002 take on the appearance of being as much a part of what Salon calls "Rove's master plan" as any in Texas. Beyond that, the electoral strategy that was carried out in Alabama in 2002 might be seen as a trial run for Rove's successful national election strategy of 2004.
The Permanent Republican Majority Series:
Part I: Political Prisoner
Part II: Interview with Governor Don Siegelman's Daughter
Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories. Contact her at [email protected].
Muriel Kane is Raw Story's research director and part of the RSI team. Contact her at [email protected].
Lindsay Beyerstein is a national correspondent for Raw Story and part of the RSI team. Contact her at [email protected].
For tips to the RSI team, email [email protected], attention: editor.
Correction: Due to an editorial error, an earlier version of this article had an incorrect subheadline. The author of a book on Rove says a lobbyist who witnessed a meeting between Rove and Abramoff was pressured to recant his remarks.