Close political ties between top White House aides and Attorney General John Ashcroft may force the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether government officials illegally disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer. The New York Times notes that Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, was a paid consultant to three of Ashcroft’s campaigns in Missouri. Jack Oliver, the deputy finance chairman of Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, ran Ashcroft’s 1994 Senate campaign, and later worked as Ashcroft’s deputy chief of staff.
Democrats are calling for an outside investigator. Roy Temple, former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, said, “Karl Rove was once part of John Ashcroft’s political strategic team. You have both the actual conflict, and the appearance of conflict. It doesn’t matter what’s in the deep, dark recesses of their hearts. It stinks.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said she was concerned about the past campaign work that Rove did for Ashcroft. “Given allegations about the involvement of senior White House officials and the past close association between the attorney general and those officials, the investigation should be headed by a person independent of the administration,” she said.
Justice Department officials would not rule out the possibility of a special counsel, or of Ashcroft’s recusing himself from the inquiry.