What Really Brought Rove Down?

Tick off your garden variety wing-nut, and the cork is swiftly pulled from that vial of vitriol soon to be dumped on your cornflakes. But tick off a hard-line religious rightie, and you just might come to intimate terms with his terrible swift sword. Just ask former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, once the genius architect of invincible success -- before he became the architect of abysmal disaster.

Ask him about a guy named Scott Bloch. Or another named David Kuo, the former Number 2 at the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, who let the cat out of the bag last year when he detailed Rove's disdain for the religious Bush partisans whom Rove, according to Kuo, dubbed "the nuts."

Bloch, one such "nut" and director of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), may have been Rove's ultimate undoing. Sure, it could have been the long reach of the Jack Abramoff affair, or something completely new and yet to be revealed, that pushed Rove out the West Wing portico. But I prefer to think it was Bloch, a vengeful wing-nut, former Bush loyalist, and devout paleo-Catholic who thought he had been brought to a minor executive office in order to make God's will manifest on Earth, and got pretty miffed when the reward for his efforts was a message sent through a White House insider that manifesting was not to be his destiny, and it was time for Bloch to go.

The OSC has the special mission of protecting the rights of federal workers, as well as enforcing the limits placed on politicking by employees of the U.S. Government under the 1939 Hatch Act. (Kudos to Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake for jumping on the Hatch Act angle before many had gotten their coffee this morning.)

Bloch made a mockery of the office when in 2004 he removed from his agency's Web site a notice of long-standing protections for gays and lesbians. The protections had been part of federal employment policy for decades, leading embarrassed Bush administration officials to have to contradict Bloch's stance, announcing that the OSC does indeed cover sexual orientation. When Rove reportedly referred to Bush's religious-right supporters as "out of control," this sort of thing may be what he had in mind.

Shortly thereafter, Bloch demanded that most of the attorneys in his office who were career employees -- not political appointees -- accept involuntary transfers to far-flung sites or lose their jobs. Nearly all of them, according to one in the group of 12, had challenged Bloch's decision to remove the nondiscrimination policy statement about gays and lesbians from the Web site, and two are openly gay themselves. Bloch's actions had started drawing the attention of the administration's opponents, something Rove had likely not anticipated when Bloch was nominated to head the rather obscure agency.

One of the agency locations to which transfers were being made was a new office Bloch was opening in Michigan, even though the agency was dealing with very few cases in that region. However, the region was home to Ave Maria Law School, an institution founded by Thomas S. Monaghan, the Daddy Warbucks of new-right Catholics, that had yet to achieve full accreditation by the American Bar Association. (It was fully accredited in August 2005, according to the Ave Maria Web site.) Bloch ended the standard competition for law internships in his office and began hiring straight out of Ave Maria.

In early 2005, I was part of an effort to get Bloch to resign that was led by Hans Johnson of Pride at Work. I was employed at the time by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and a member of Pride At Work -- functionally, the queer caucus of the AFL-CIO. I had experienced first-hand the zeal with which Bloch would use his office to attack Bush's foes when a radio adradio ad I had written for the union became a subject of an OSC investigation. (No charges were ever filed.)

Bloch may have thought that his brand of anti-union, homophobic loyalty to the Bush-Rove cause of misappropriating the taxpayer-funded apparatus of the federal government for partisan political purposes would win him some major kudos. But it was not to be. Apparently Bloch's Ave Maria-boostering and overtly anti-gay (hating both the sin and the sinner) antics were a bit over the top, as it were, so in 2005, Clay Johnson, the No. 2 at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) called on Bloch to resign, according to columnist Robert Novak. Then, wrote Novak, some mysterious, unnamed, Bush-loving Catholic was dispatched to Bloch to gently suggest the same.

When Bloch refused to tender his resignation, Johnson, according to Novak, set off an investigation of Bloch via a referral to the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management. Bloch responded in kind, launching an OSC investigation into the administration's politicization of government agencies -- an investigation that landed at Rove's door.

Bloch's inquiry lifted the lid on what many of us, dismissed as too partisan to be heeded, had already known: that under Rove's tutelage, every federal agency that could be politicized had been. Bloch uncovered a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Rove aide J. Scott Jennings to employees of the General Services Administration that "listed Democrats the White House has targeted for defeat in 2008," according to a letter sent on July 17 to White House Political Affairs Director Sara Taylor by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Bloch investigation also uncovered the deployment of officials, apparently by Rove and on the taxpayers' dime, from the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Transportation, as well as from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to appear with Republican members of Congress who were engaged in tough 2006 re-election fights. None appeared with Democrats, and Waxman has ample evidence of the political nature of the events.

In Tempting Faith, the book he released last year, David Kuo detailed similar use of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He noted some 20 events "designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races," according to an MSNBC story on the book. "Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports."

Of course the biggest fish are yet to land in this line of inquiry: Rove's role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys, and hard evidence of a partisan political motive. Bloch's efforts uncovered the existence of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts used by Rove and other executive branch officials for partisan political work. It was farewell address yesterday, Rove had the gall to offer this line in praise of the man he so jealously guarded all these years: "I've seen a reformer who challenged this administration, the Congress and the country to make bold changes to important institutions in great need of repair."

Bold changes to important institutions were indeed made -- institutions in ever greater need of repair, thanks to Rove & Co. How innocent were we in 1973, when we learned of a tape that caught a president talking to his advisers about the burglary of the opposition party's offices, something we thought to be a high crime. From where we sit now, after 6 1/2 years of Rove's antics, it was just a little breaking and entering.

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