WASHINGTON, D.C.—From the time he was 10 years old, Karl Rove, Bush’s closest and most important political adviser, has made a specialty of dirty tricks. They run all the way from trying to slime a candidate by calling him a peacenik or gay to planting phony campaign literature on an opponent. If the Wilsons turn out to be anything but just another weird turn in Rove’s career, that would be real news.
Here is the barest of chronologies of Rove’s career, compiled from various sources:
CHRISTMAS DAY, 1950: Karl Rove is born in Denver, Colorado. His father, Louis Rove, is a mineral geologist, and his mother, Reba Wood, is a gift shop manager.
1960: At age 10, he becomes a Republican, supporting Nixon in his losing race to John F. Kennedy. A meanie girl who’s a Kennedy supporter beats him up.
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson buries Barry Goldwater in a landslide, and the GOP is at its lowest ebb. Humiliated young Republicans vow, “Never again!” and the New Right sets out on the long road to taking over the government. Goldwater inspires Rove to become a laissez-faire libertarian. But Rove soon leaves the Ayn Rand crowd and joins the conservative crusade.
1965: A card-carrying nerd, Rove arrives at Salt Lake City’s Olympus High School in a jacket and tie, toting a briefcase. Wins notoriety as high school debater by bringing boxes of blank index cards to tournaments as a means of intimidating opponents.
FALL 1969: Rove enrolls at University of Utah, some say to avoid draft. Later attends the University of Texas and George Mason University. Never gets a degree from any of them.
CHRISTMAS 1969: Man thought to be Rove’s father walks out on his mother, but, surprise, relatives tell Rove the guy’s not his real father.
FALL 1970: Rove pays visit to Chicago campaign headquarters of Alan Dixon, a Democrat running for state treasurer. Disguised as a volunteer, Rove steals official campaign letterhead and sends out 1,000 invitations to people in the city’s red-light district and soup kitchens, offering “free beer, free food, girls, and a good time for nothing” at Dixon headquarters. When hundreds of homeless and alcoholic Chicagoans show up at a fancy Dixon reception, Rove succeeds in embarrassing the candidate. Dixon still wins the election.
1971: Rove drops out of college to devote full time to College Republicans, where he becomes protégé of dirty trickster Lee Atwater, the group’s Southern regional coordinator. Rove becomes executive director, then national chairman.
1972: Under mentorship of dirty trickster Donald Segretti (who later went to jail for Watergate), Rove paints McGovern as “left-wing peacenik,” in spite of McGovern’s World War II stint piloting a B-24. Rove also works as staff assistant to George Bush Sr., then chairman of Republican National Committee (RNC).
1973: Rove introduces Atwater to Bush Sr. Atwater later becomes “political attack dog” for the Reagan-Bush team, helps Bush Sr. become president, himself becomes RNC chairman, is struck by a brain tumor, and dies.
AUGUST 10, 1973: The Washington Post says it received tape of Rove telling about some of his “dirty tricks.” Rove is rumored to have participated in “dumpster-diving” (looking through opponents’ trash for information to be used against them), crimes such as identity theft, petty larceny, and campaign fraud, and tours to teach other College Republicans how to perform these tricks.
NOVEMBER 1973: Rove first meets George W. Bush when Bush Sr. asks Rove to deliver a set of car keys to the younger Bush. Rove later recalls his initial impression: “Huge amounts of charisma, swagger, cowboy boots, flight jacket, wonderful smile, just charisma—you know, wow.”
1976: Rove marries Houston socialite Valerie Wainwright.
1977-79: Rove starts raising money for Bush Sr.’s eventual presidential campaign, begins advising George W. Bush in his unsuccessful congressional bid, and as a Texan political consultant put it, has to “babysit Bush back when [he] was drinking.”
1979: Wainwright divorces Rove.
1981: Rove’s mother commits suicide. Rove forms direct-mail firm, Rove & Co., to back Republican candidates.
1982: Texas Republicans suffer heavy election losses. Rove, however, uses opportunity to develop campaign strategies targeting suburbs.
1984: Rove helps ex-Democrat Phil Gramm win Senate seat as Republican.
1986: Rove marries Darby Hickson, a graphic designer for his company. Advises Bill Clement in his tight but successful Texas gubernatorial race.
1988: Rove hits on “tort reform” as winning issue for Republicans. His candidates win five out of six open seats on the Texas Supreme Court.
1994: Rove becomes political adviser to George W. Bush in his race against incumbent governor Ann Richards. Bush aided by $1 million pumped into the race. Rove dreams up idea of staging calls to voters from supposed pollsters who ask such things as whether people would be “more or less likely to vote for Governor Richards if [they] knew her staff is dominated by lesbians.”
2000: Rove is at heart of Bush’s vicious smear job on John McCain in South Carolina primary: Thinly disguised Bush surrogates claim McCain was a stoolie while a P.O.W. Rove also credited with spreading rumor that McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter is black and illegitimate and his wife a drug addict.
2000: Rove is required to sell his Enron stock before Bush takes office. Reportedly still holds between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares when appointed.
2001: Rove launches “72-Hour Task Force” aimed at evangelicals, Hispanics, Catholics, and other faith-based groups.
JUNE 2002: A PowerPoint presentation Rove created to explain strategies for 2002 and 2004 elections is found without explanation in Lafayette Park. The presentation portrays war on terror as an important issue throughout the upcoming campaigns.
JULY 8, 2003: Syndicated columnist Robert Novak mentions to Rove that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA undercover operative. Rove’s comment: “I heard that too.”
JULY 14, 2003: Novak’s syndicated column reveals publicly the classified information that, according to “two senior administration officials,” Plame is an undercover CIA operative.
AUGUST 21, 2003: Wilson, who has already blamed Rove for the leak, says at a public forum in Seattle that he would like “to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.”
OCTOBER 2004: FBI begins investigating the Plame leak. Rove testifies, but his attorney, Robert Luskin, says Rove has been “assured” by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that “he is not a target of the probe.”
NOVEMBER 3, 2004: In his victory speech, Bush calls Rove “the architect” of his re-election.
FEBRUARY 2005: Rove is promoted to assistant to the president, deputy chief of staff, and senior adviser.
FEBRUARY 11, 2005: The Bush administration denies having had anything to do with the Swift Boat Veterans, who smeared John Kerry during the campaign and denounced his war stories as lies. But rumors persist when Rove pays tribute to the group at the Conservative Political Action Conference during the annual Ronald Reagan banquet in D.C.
JUNE 2005: As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean says of Republicans: “[Many] of them have not made an honest living in their lives. The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people. They’re a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same, and they all look the same.”
JUNE14, 2005: Illinois Democratic senator Richard Durbin compares American mistreatment of prisoners at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib to that of “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others.”
JUNE 22, 2005: Rove, at a New York Conservative Party fundraiser, says, “Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year? Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.”
In the same speech, Rove says, “Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.”
JULY 2005: Rove’s attorney Luskin acknowledges that Rove spoke with Time reporter Matthew Cooper about Valerie Plame in July 2003, but he claims that Rove never mentioned her name. Fitzgerald once again reassures Rove, according to Luskin, that he is “not a target in this probe.”
Additional reporting: Halley Bondy and Natalie Wittlin