Interview with Karl Rove

Interview with Karl Rove

By The Situation Room - March 10, 2010

BLITZER: Karl Rove is opening himself up to tough questions now that he's out promoting his new book. We spoke earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM about the biggest -- some of the biggest controversies of the Bush era including the Iraq war, the hunt for those weapons of mass destruction. Now we turn to the current political climate. Here's more of my in-depth interview with the former adviser to President Bush.


BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the current issues under way right now. Who do -- who are you with? Are you with Liz Cheney or her critics among those conservative lawyers, including Ken Starr, who say she's going way too far in accusing some of the Bush -- excuse me -- the Obama Justice Department lawyers who previously defended Guantanamo detainees as the "al Qaeda Seven" or calling the Department of Justice the Department of Jihad. Who do you agree with? Would it be Ken Starr or Liz Cheney?

KARL ROVE, FORMER ADVISER TO PRES. BUSH: My view of it is -- is that I am concerned about -- we need to have full information. Who are these people within the Justice Department and were they involved in fundamental questions of detainee policy. That is to say (INAUDIBLE) everybody is entitled to a legal defense, and if you're going to have people in civil courts or criminal courts they're entitled to having the best legal representation possible.

But I'm worried about people -- look, would we take somebody who was a lawyer for Enron and feel fully comfortable if we then put them in a role at the Securities and Exchange Commission where they had involvement in policy questions that might affect situations like Enron. I think we need to know more about this before coming to a conclusion. I think the Department of Justice has unfortunately been less than forthcoming and congressional requests for information about who these people are and whether or not they're involved with questions of detainee policy.

BLITZER: But so many of these Bush/Reagan lawyers who have written this letter with Ken Starr, people like David Rifkin (ph) and Brad Barrison (ph), John Ballenger (ph), Ken Starr, Larry Thompson (ph), the deputy attorney general, they say she has gone simply way too far in what they call a shameful series of attacks. Do you believe Liz Cheney has gone too far?

ROVE: Well I haven't read the letter that you mentioned. I've been out launching a book. But again, I repeat I am concerned about whether or not we have enough information that do -- would we take a lawyer who is representing Enron or WorldCom and be comfortable if they were then put in charge of policy questions at the Securities and Exchange Commission that had to do with the questions that they had represented Enron or WorldCom on?

You know I think that's a -- the delicate balance. On the one hand you want people to have the best possible legal representation, but if you volunteer to represent somebody in a detainee question, do we feel comfortable as a nation and we ought to discuss it. And that's why, you know, knowing where these people are -- knowing who they are and having the Department of Justice be responsive to the inquiries for the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee is entirely appropriate and the Justice Department has not been forthcoming. BLITZER: All right, so it sounds to me like you agree with Liz Cheney.

ROVE: You know what, Wolf? I'd be happy to say it a third time. I would like to see more information. You may want me to pick one side or the other of a dispute, which I haven't even seen the letter that you want me to comment on. I've tried to be forthcoming with you and tell you I think we need to have more information and I hope you would be nervous about taking the lawyer for Enron and put him in charge with policy regarding the same kind of questions he dealt with as a lawyer with Enron at the Securities and Exchange Commission. It ought to be something that in our country we have a public discussion about and there's some light shed on the subject so we can all come to an informed opinion.

BLITZER: Let's move on to some other issues. The Tea Party, is it potentially going to help or hurt the GOP?

ROVE: The answer to that is yes. It will help and hurt. The Tea Party movement is a wide and diverse group. It will hurt the Republican Party if some elements of the Tea Party decide to become third party advocates because it will split the conservative vote. Some members of the Tea Party, however, want to follow that course. The vast majority I think want to remain and are trying to figure out in a decentralized grassroots way how they can remain a force, a movement that holds the feet of elected officials in both parties to the fire over the questions of debts and deficit and spending and growth of government power. I think that's where most Tea Party leaders and members that I talk to are trying to grapple with how they do that.

BLITZER: How is Michael Steele doing as head of the Republican Party?

ROVE: Look, we've had you know a good year. A small dollar fund-raising, not a great year in major dollar fund-raising. We've had a good year in which the urgency (ph) has played a role along with unfortunately (ph) a very robust Republican Governors Association in races in Virginia and New Jersey. You know look, you don't -- you don't get a scorecard until the end of the -- a final scorecard until the end of the election year. We're going to have a good election year. The question is, is it going to be as good as we need and want it to be and that's going to require a robust RNC with lots of money and lots of good voter programs identified and getting out the vote. We have months to go before we will know how well that does. You know, I know there's a lot of consternation out there about this recent finance presentation. I have heard some very negative things about it from people who are major Republican donors and givers and past fundraisers. I wish it hadn't happened. I like the fact that Michael Steele brought new people in the building to help him gear up for the elections ahead and I'm very much looking forward to fall elections.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Should gays be allowed to serve openly in the military? ROVE: I must admit that I'm a proponent of don't ask, don't tell. I want to listen to military leaders and find out what they think the consequences will be for our military but I'm unmoved as of today.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say you're on the fence or you're still opposed?

ROVE: I'm still opposed. I'm unmoved.

BLITZER: Let's talk about gay marriage. Is it time to allow gays to marriage in the United States?

ROVE: I believe in traditional marriage. Marriage is and ought to be between one man and one woman.

BLITZER: Describe the partisanship in Washington right now. Some think it's the worst ever. What do you think?

ROVE: I'm not certain it's the worst ever. We don't see what was being tossed at each party by their leaders in the '90s from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. On the other hand, in one way it's worse than the '90s because at least they didn't pretend they were bipartisan in the '90s. President Obama had a moment last year when he took off. He had the good will of the country. He campaigned on inspiring rhetoric about not red states or blue states but United States and if he sat down and pursued bipartisan resolution, this poison would boil out of the system some. Instead he sought Democrat answers only when it came to writing the stimulus bill it wasn't the white house writing the stimulus bill. They outsourced it to the House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey. I met with a senior white house official who said that the white house never had serious meetings with significant Republican players in the house to adopt their programs. We're seeing the same on health care. The administration says we had an open process because Republicans were at the committee hearings. You don't write bills at committee hearings. You write bills on Capitol Hill or at the white house working over key elements of legislation or talking to each other on a regular basis. When John Boehner said he hadn't talked to the white house chief of staff in months or had a substantive discussion with them, I found it troubling.

BLITZER: How often do you speak with former President Bush?

ROVE: I talk to him every couple days and e-mail him every day or two.

BLITZER: How's he doing?

ROVE: He's got a wonderful life. Deeply involved in his presidential center in Dallas. Life is really good for him.

BLITZER: It must be quite a shock, I guess, or a jolt to go from eight years as president or eight years as one of the top advisers to the president and all of a sudden be out. How have you made that transition? How has that worked out for you? ROVE: I've had a great transition. I left the white house in 2007. You know, I knew when I went there that it would be for a limited period of time. I was grateful that the average tenure of a white house senior aide is 18 to 20 months. I was there for nearly seven years. Being able to serve that long was a great privilege. Life has a way of -- if you move on, if you focus on what comes next, life has a way of providing some interesting opportunities. I'm on fox news. Your competitor. I'm writing each week for "the wall street journal" which is a very challenging thing. I'm writing for "Newsweek." I'm making speeches. I'm doing interesting things inside and outside of politics.

BLITZER: You're 59 years old so what's next as far as politics is concerned? Are you going to get back into that political arena?

ROVE: You know, not like I was before. I'll never get out of politics. I have friends in public office. I have things that I want to do. You can't go back in life. I won't go back to the existence I had before of running a political consulting firm and signing up clients and advising campaigns in exactly that way.

BLITZER: That won't happen anymore?


BLITZER: Karl Rove's book is entitled "Courage and Consequence." Thank you very much for joining us.

ROVE: Thank you for having it. Appreciate it.


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