Bush's Hit Man
Rove, after all, works in the tradition of the late Lee Atwater, the Republican attack-dog/consultant who said of Michael Dukakis that he would "strip the bark off the little bastard" and "make 'Willie' Horton his running mate."
Rove's first foray into politics involved gaining entry to the office of Alan Dixon--a candidate for state treasurer in Illinois in 1970--stealing some campaign stationery and printing and distributing a fake invitation to Dixon's campaign headquarters, promising "free beer, free food, girls, and a good time." "I was nineteen and I got involved in a political prank," Rove told the Dallas Morning News in 1999. A year later, Atwater ran Rove's campaign for the presidency of the national College Republicans, and working together they defeated Terry Dolan, the Republican operative who later founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee that helped elect Ronald Reagan.
When, in the wake of the Watergate break-in, Rove was accused of teaching dirty tricks to college Republicans, he attributed the accusations to rumors started by Dolan. After the FBI interviewed Rove, the Republican National Committee--then chaired by Bush the Elder--looked into the charges, decided they were baseless and offered Rove work. Rove later joined Bush and Baker to work on the PAC that Bush set up to position himself for the 1980 presidential campaign, which he lost to Ronald Reagan.
Rove soldiered on in obscurity until 1986, when he was working on the second campaign of Bill Clements, a Republican trying to recapture the governor's office after losing it to Democrat Mark White. Rove made news by going public with a complaint that an electronic bugging device had been found in his office--shortly before a scheduled televised debate between the two candidates. "We never took it seriously, because we knew nobody in our shop had anything to do with it," says Dwayne Hollman, who worked for White at the time. Hollman said it was assumed that it was a publicity stunt. "It was investigated by the FBI," Hollman said, "and nothing ever came of it."
Yet some wonder what "came of" Rove's meeting with FBI agent Greg Rampton, who conducted that investigation. Local authorities who looked into the bugging seem to agree with Hollman's assessment. "We were the first on the scene and concluded that Rove had hired a company to debug his office, and that the same company had planted the bug," says a source involved in the Travis County DA office's investigation. But the media reported that Rampton had determined there was nothing to pursue.
Two years later, Rampton began an investigation that involved his setting up shop in the offices of Garry Mauro, the state land commissioner and later the loser in the 1998 gubernatorial race won by George W. Bush. Mauro said Rampton informed him that a former Land Commission employee was involved in an appraisals scheme that involved the commission. "I told my general counsel to tell [Rampton] to come on in," Mauro said. Rampton accepted the invitation. "On the day of the Democratic state convention, I got a subpoena for every document you could possibly imagine," Mauro said.
Mauro says he was warned by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock--who, Mauro said, insisted on speaking to him outside their office buildings--that three Democrats, including Mauro, Hightower and himself, were being targeted. As Mauro puts it, "Greg Rampton lived in my office. He roamed the halls. He had us put in a computer room, he picked out files of people who had given money and tried to establish by regression analysis...that anytime somebody gives you a contribution, there is a quid pro quo. Once they showed up with twelve agents and brought their own copier." In the end they found nothing, according to Mauro. "But," he adds, "they made it hard to run a campaign." (Attempts to contact Rampton through the FBI office in Denver, from which he recently retired, were not successful.)
If Rampton struck out in Mauro's office, he connected in Hightower's, after slowing down only to subpoena Bullock's campaign finance filings. In the summer of 1989, pending indictments against two aides to Hightower--who used his office to attack what he called "the bullies, bankers, bastards and tort reformers" who run the state--were announced in Washington. But it wasn't Rampton or any other Justice Department official who announced them. It was Karl Rove, the political consultant working for Hightower's Republican opponent, Rick Perry.