Novak and Rove’s Long Relationship

Elisabeth Bumiller has an interesting piece on the long relationship between Bob Novak and Karl Rove. She is apparently surprised that political operatives cultivate relationships with prominent journalists and vice versa.

C.I.A. Leak Case Recalls Texas Incident in ’92 Race

These hot months here will be remembered as the summer of the leak, a time when the political class obsessed on a central question: did Karl Rove, President Bush’s powerful adviser, commit a crime when he spoke about a C.I.A. officer with the columnist Robert D. Novak?

Unless something really big develops in the case, this is exceedingly unlikely. “Damn that was a hot summer” is much more likely. Or “the summer the Nats collapsed.” Or “the summer of steroids.” Or “When ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ killed off the Hollywood remakes.” Almost anything except “the summer of the leak.”

Whatever a federal grand jury investigating the case decides, a small political subgroup is experiencing the odd sensation that this leak has sprung before. In 1992 in an incident well known in Texas, Mr. Rove was fired from the state campaign to re-elect the first President Bush on suspicions that Mr. Rove had leaked damaging information to Mr. Novak about Robert Mosbacher Jr., the campaign manager and the son of a former commerce secretary.

Since then, Mr. Rove and Mr. Novak have denied that Mr. Rove was the source, even as Mr. Mosbacher, who no longer talks on the record about the incident, has never changed his original assertion that Mr. Rove was the culprit. “It’s history,” Mr. Mosbacher said last week in a brief telephone interview. “I commented on it at the time, and I have nothing to add.”

But the episode, part of the bad-boy lore of Mr. Rove, is a telling chapter in the 20-year friendship between the presidential adviser and the columnist. The story of that relationship, a bond of mutual self-interest of a kind that is long familiar in Washington, does not answer the question of who might have leaked the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, to reporters, potentially a crime. But it does give a clue to Mr. Rove’s frequent and complimentary mentions over the years in Mr. Novak’s column, and to the importance of Mr. Rove and Mr. Novak to each other’s ambitions.

“They’ve known each for a long time, but they are not close friends,” said a person who knows both men and who asked not to be named because of the investigation into a conversation by Mr. Novak and Mr. Rove in July 2003 about Ms. Wilson, part of a case that has put a reporter for The New York Times, Judith Miller, in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury.


But Mr. Novak, through his office manager, Kathleen Connolly, provided the information about his first encounter with Mr. Rove. Mr. Novak, by his recollection, met Mr. Rove in Texas in the mid-80’s, when Mr. Novak turned up to write columns about the state’s shifting out of Democrats’ hands into those of Republicans. In those years, Mr. Rove regularly had dinner with Mr. Novak when the columnist went to Austin. Mr. Rove, in his mid-30’s, was a rising political operator who in 1981 founded his direct-mail consulting firm, Karl Rove & Company. Gov. William P. Clements, a Republican, was one of his first clients.


Still, a computer search of Mr. Novak’s columns shows that Mr. Rove’s name did not appear under his byline until 1992, when Mr. Novak wrote the words that got Mr. Rove into such trouble.


Mr. Rove again turned up in Mr. Novak’s columns in 1999, when Gov. George W. Bush was running for president. Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush’s national campaign strategist, was quoted briefly on the record in at least three columns, even though Mr. Novak has said on CNN, “I can’t tell you anything I ever talked to Karl Rove about, because I don’t think I ever talked to him about any subject, even the time of day, on the record.”

Whether Mr. Novak forgot about the 1999 mentions is unclear. What is clear is that Mr. Rove has made frequent appearances in Mr. Novak’s column in a positive light, often in paragraphs that imparted information about the inner workings of Mr. Bush’s operation, feeding perceptions here that Mr. Rove is one of the columnist’s most important anonymous sources.

I’m not sure that this sheds much light on the Plame case. Rove has acknowledged that he confirmed the “Valerie recommended Joe” story to Novak and Novak can hardly deny having printed the story.

That the two men have used each other professionally for years is mildly interesting, but not terribly illuminating. Politicians and journalists exploit each other’s needs for mutual benefit. Water is wet. The sky is blue.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lt bell says:

    both of these criminals belong in prison


  2. neal says:

    Please remove me from your mailing list. Even as a relatively conservative person I found your liberal bashing to be unnecessary and unproductive to a meaningful debate on policy in general and the Rove affair in particular. Our President’s honesty and policies are being questioned by the majority of Americans–whether they are democrats or republicans. Well-reasoned defense of his policies are welcome; but that is apparently not a requisite for this site.

  3. schar says:

    Mr. Novak has always appeared to be a meanspirited hack for the GOP. The fact that he cannot take the same heat he hands out so easily on news shows, was demonstrated when he walked out during a show with James Carville on Thursday. He has been vicious in his attacks on Democratic candidates as he smirks and discounts any other views. He deserved to be dismissed by CNN and no lame apology should ever gain him his job back!

  4. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    Another non-story by the Times to keep this non-story on the front burner as the real evidence continues to suggest Rove was not the “outer” of Wilson’s wife.

    I think you are right on track, James.

  5. James Joyner says:

    neal: I don’t have a mailing list. Had I a mailing list, I assure you that you would not be on it.

  6. Misunderestimated says:

    When water is frozen, it’s not wet. At night the sky is not blue. Ignorance is curable. Think outside the box.