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Bush's Hit Man | The Nation

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Bush's Hit Man

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Hightower refuses to discuss the incident. Rove later admitted under oath that he had met with Rampton during the summer of 1989 "regarding a probe of political corruption in the office of Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower." And in June of 1990, Perry sent out a fundraising letter claiming that Hightower's office was rife with corruption and was under investigation by the FBI, though there were no indictments until after the 1991 general election, in which Hightower lost his re-election bid.

About the Author

Lou Dubose
Lou Dubose was the co-author, with the late Molly Ivins, of two New York Times bestsellers about George W. Bush: Shrub...

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Rove has repeatedly denied involvement in the FBI investigations of top Democrats in the 1980s and did not respond to questions submitted to him regarding this story. When questioned under oath before a Texas Senate committee in 1991, Rove was evasive about his relationship with Rampton and engaged in semantic hairsplitting worthy of Bill Clinton. "How long have you known an FBI agent by the name of Greg [Rampton]?" a Democratic senator asked Rove. The answer should have been fairly straightforward, as Rampton had cleared Rove of the bugging incident five years earlier and had met with him a number of times subsequently, which Rove had disclosed in a federal questionnaire in 1989. Yet Rove was, to say the least, evasive: "Senator, it depends. Would you define 'know' for me?"

Rove became acquainted with George W. Bush while working for his father and Baker in Houston but didn't work for the younger Bush until he decided to run for governor in 1994. The campaign was all Rove: a four-point message, rumors about the opponent (Ann Richards) circulated by surrogates and little direct exposure to the press.

To those following the Bush campaigns that Rove ran, it was evident that he was more than just a political consultant to Bush. Writing in the Boston Globe magazine, David Shribman posed the questions that many in the press corps dared not ask during the presidential campaign: "Is there a place where George W. Bush ends and Karl Rove begins? Are you the wizard behind the curtain of George W.? Is W. too dependent upon you? And, worst of all: Are you George W. Bush's brain?"

Rove has certainly done much of Bush's thinking for him. Asked by a reporter for the National Review what thinkers had shaped Bush's political philosophy, Rove cited Magnet's The Dream and the Nightmare, Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Demoralization of Society, James Q. Wilson's On Character and several other books--none of which Bush would have been likely to see but for Rove. (Recall Bush's response in the debate about which political philosopher had most shaped his thinking: It was not Magnet, Himmelfarb or Wilson but Jesus Christ.)

When working as a political operative and not a mentor, Rove has been bipartisan, eliminating Republicans who represented a threat to his boss's career with the same zeal with which he attacked Democrats. "He's enormously effective," says Dallas lawyer and Bush critic Tom Pauken, noting that Rove's political bible is Machiavelli's The Prince. And it is Machiavelli--not the authors of the conservative and neocon canon--who has informed Rove's treatment of Pauken. In 1994, as Bush was beginning his first race for governor, the machinery of the Republican Party of Texas was taken over by Reagan Republicans and fundamentalist Christians, and Pauken--who had worked in the Reagan Administration--was made party chairman. It was a faction that Rove correctly perceived would create problems for Bush, who had always understood that the Christian conservatives must be kept in line. Rove called big funders and diverted money from the state party to Bush political accounts that he controlled. "He did everything he could to cut off the money to the party...throughout the time I was chair," Pauken says. "Karl understands the importance of money in politics, and he made it more difficult for me to function."

Similarly, after two Christian-right candidates for the State Board of Education, Bob Offutt and Donna Ballard (Offutt was an incumbent), traveled to New Hampshire to endorse Steve Forbes in the Republican primary, they returned home to find their opponents' campaigns suddenly flush with cash from big Republican givers associated with Rove. "You don't cross Karl Rove and not expect repercussions," a defeated Offutt told the Austin American-Statesman. A Republican political consultant was more colorful: "To put it in a nutshell, you don't tug on Superman's cape."

In January, Superman moved into the White House office previously occupied by Hillary Clinton. And he's only a phone call away from Attorney General John Ashcroft.

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