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Democrats Keep Rove in Headlines

Less than 15 hours after President Bush announced that John Roberts would be his nominee for the Supreme Court, leading Democrats stood before a bank of television cameras Wednesday and criticized the president.

But their ire had nothing to do with Roberts.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) assailed the president for failing to punish Karl Rove for his alleged involvement in disclosing the name of a CIA operative.

Even though Roberts is considered too conservative by many Democrats to succeed Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the court, the nominee does not stir the same partisan passions as Rove does. And while Democrats vow to vigorously question Roberts during his confirmation hearings, they appear to be saving their fury for Rove, Bush’s top political adviser and White House deputy chief of staff.

“We will continue to look for some answers to what role Mr. Rove takes and whether there is a presidential endorsement of his role,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a frequent critic of the Bush administration. “We are not going to settle for a dismissal. We will keep looking.”

The hunt continued this week even as Washington turned its attention towards Roberts, who began meetings on Capitol Hill with key Senators involved in his confirmation hearings.

In a set of talking points issued Wednesday morning, the Senate Democratic leadership urged rank-and-file Senators to continue spotlighting Rove’s involvement in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

“A Supreme Court nominee will not distract the country from the growing credibility problem at the White House,” Democrats were told to echo, according to a copy of the leadership memo obtained by Roll Call. “If Bush wants to know what Karl Rove and Scooter Libby did or did not do, he should call them into his office and ask them. It’s time for President Bush to show some leadership.”

Libby is Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and is suspected by some people of also being involved in the Plame matter.

Plame is the wife of Joe Wilson, a former diplomat who disputed the Bush administration’s claim that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program.

On Wednesday, Boxer specifically called on Bush to fire Rove, who has acknowledged speaking to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Wilson’s relationship to Plame.

“Well, the American people want and deserve to know that their top officials in the White House are held to the highest ethical standards, not to the lowest,” Boxer said. “And under the standard that was first stated by the president and reiterated by his top spokesman, Karl Rove should not be in this administration.”

Harman, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, would not go as far as to say that Bush should fire Rove, but she added that he “should have his security clearances suspended.”

“I think he might be better suited to serve in some political arm in government than as the number two person in the White House, responsible for critical national security functions of this government,” Harmon said.

Democrats claim that Rove broke the law by disclosing CIA agent Plame’s identity.

Republicans dismissed the Democratic efforts to keep the heat on Rove as a political tactic and predicted that the strategy will fail.

“I think they are wasting their time,” said Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah). “Virtually everybody agrees that Karl didn’t break any law, except the Democrats, who keep saying it is a violation of law. I think it is going to peter out on their side [because] I think they are screaming at an increasingly empty hall.”

Still, Democrats plan to move forward with their strategy of questioning Rove’s credibility and Bush’s decision so far not to fire him.

“Karl Rove did something the president said he would fire him for, and the president hasn’t kept his word,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a brief interview Wednesday, as he shuffled between meetings on Capitol Hill. “The issue isn’t what Karl Rove did. The issue is, is this president’s word good?”

On Friday, Senate and House Democrats will hold a joint hearing “to examine the national security implications of disclosing the identity of a covert intelligence officer.”

The hearing is not an official Congressional proceeding since Democrats are not in the majority and are not empowered to call hearings.

But Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.), who is co-chairing the proceeding, said it is still important for Congress to look into the matter even as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald conducts his own investigation.

“People think this is a political game of gotcha,” Dorgan said. “It is not that at all. These issues are life and death.”

However, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) questioned the Democrat’s vigor to continue pursing the matter and noted that the news of Roberts’ nomination smothered the Rove matter.

“The Roberts nomination took Karl Rove off the front page,” Craig said. “They will do everything they can, including failing to tell the truth, to keep Karl Rove on the front page. The issue deserves to be vetted, but it has been vetted for three years.”