The entire scheme has been laid out before us. The question now is whether Karl Rove will get away with it.
Here's the scheme, as revealed over the past month: Rove and his deputies traveled to various agencies throughout the government, lecturing management there about Republicans' political prospects. Which House and Senate members were in trouble? Which Democratic seats were vulnerable? What were the major issues in the election?
But there was a line to be drawn: no commands were to be given -- because such a directive would be a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government resources for political ends.
On the contrary, the government officials receiving the briefing were supposed to get the hint -- as Tom Hamburger reported
, "employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans." The briefing simply gave them the tools to be helpful in the next election. They were supposed to take the ball and run with it.The Washington Post reports
today that Rove and his deputies gave such briefings to at least 15 different agencies (ranging from NASA to the Department of Homeland Security). But one briefing in particular continues to shine a light on all the rest: the one given this January to officials at the General Services Administration, the government's massive procurement agency.
Rove's deputy Scott Jennings simply showed up and gave the briefing (the slides
(pdf) for which have been obtained by the House oversight committee -- that's one of them above). Employees were supposed to get the "not-so-subtle" message. But unfortunately for Jennings, GSA chief Lurita Doan doesn't do "not-so-subtle." From today's Post
At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. The briefer, J. Scott Jennings, said that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up," according to an account given by former GSA chief acquisition officer Emily Murphy to House investigators, according to a copy of the transcript.
"Something was going to take place potentially afterwards" regarding Doan's request, GSA deputy director of communications Jennifer Millikin told investigators she concluded at the time.
Doan was obviously supposed to come to the tacit understanding that such things should be discussed "off-line." But, as anyone who watched Doan testify
before the House last month can attest, she doesn't think well on her feet.
Now, the White House has adopted the line that the briefings were simply to provide employees a look at "the political landscape." And apparently that talking point has been widely distributed, as R. Jeffrey Smith from the Post
By the end of yesterday afternoon, all of those describing the briefings on the record had adopted a uniform phrase in response to a reporter's inquiries: They were, each official said, "informational briefings about the political landscape."
It's all about plausible deniability. As Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel -- the office that is charged with investigating Hatch Act violations -- tells Smith, "Political forecasts, just generally . . . I do not regard as illegal political activity." Bloch, remember, is the one who announced to the world earlier this week that he'd leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of Karl Rove. (There's more on Bloch here
The burning question here is this: what about those agency officials who are smarter than Doan? The briefings have been going on since the beginning of the Bush administration. Somebody got the hint, had that "offline" conversation, and successfully helped "our candidates." How many? When? Where?