As a string of foes from John McCain to RichardClarke can attest, Karl Rove has never been shy aboutusing personal attacks for political gain. But as the ValeriePlame scandal rages on, the Bush administration’s in-housebulldog may be forced to endure a taste of his own medicine.
LastSunday, in a blistering column in the New York Times, FrankRich charged that around the time the White House was leaking Plame’s undercover CIA status to friendly reporters,Rove’s office was publicly “outing” JeffreyKofman after the gay ABC correspondent reported on theflagging morale of American troops in Iraq. Rich angrily charged the Republicanrumor-monger with fostering a “pervasive culture of revenge” inWashington. Now, in the same spirit, Rove’s critics are forcing themarried pol to fend off a politically motivated campaign that focuses on his ownpersonal life.
For years, political insiders in the Lone Star State have whisperedabout Rove’s close friendship with lobbyist KarenJohnson, a never-married, forty-something GOP loyalist from Austin,Texas. The two first became close when Johnson sat on the board ofthen-Governor George W. Bush’s Business Council over adecade ago. Their friendship reportedly deepened after Bush appointedJohnson—a little-known spokesperson for the Texas Good RoadsAssociation—to a seat on his Transportation Department transition team in2000. The plum appointment enabled Johnson’s lobbying firm, InfrastructureSolutions, to snare such high-paying clients as Aetna and the City of Laredo.Sources say Johnson now frequently travels between Washington D.C. and Austin,where she frequently appears at Rove’s side at parties and unofficialfunctions.
Although there is no evidence that their relationship isanything but professional, the close association between the marriedWhite House aide and the comely lobbyist has long raised eyebrows inconservative Texas circles. Asked about the pair, a prominent politicaljournalist who has written extensively about Rove says, “I’ve heardthe stories, but I would never write about Karl and Karen. If you want to keepyour job as a reporter in Texas, you make believe you don’t see themtogether.”
In the post-Lewinsky era, Washington’s press corps has mostlyavoided reporting on the private lives of public officials. But as thepolitical climate in the capitol grows more poisonous, Rove’s closefriendship with the lobbyist has attracted increased scrutiny from opponentseager to prove that Bush’s dirty trickster is sitting on some dirtylaundry of his own.
Asked to comment on Rove’s relationshipwith Johnson, a White House spokesman firmly declined to discuss the matter,saying that their relationship was “the business of these two individualswho have personal lives…I don’t think that’s something that theWhite House should comment on.” A new air of civility inWashington? Don’t count on it.