Thursday, November 3, 2005

The White House yesterday said President Bush has no intention of firing adviser Karl Rove and insisted Mr. Rove has not been distracted by a probe into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

“Anybody who knows Karl Rove knows he’s impossible to distract,” said White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, who has worked closely with Mr. Rove for a decade. “The day that he’s drawing his last breath will be the day that he’s distracted from the work that is required of him.”

Mr. Bartlett also said the president is “not going to be forced by catcalls in Washington” to fire Mr. Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff. Nor is there an internal debate in the West Wing about whether Mr. Rove should be fired while the investigation continues.

“It’s not happening,” Mr. Bartlett told The Washington Times. “It would be deeply disrespectful of him personally and the investigation that is going on more broadly for us to be making presumptions about something we don’t know the outcome of.”

The investigation has resulted in the indictment and resignation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Although the probe has not been closed, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald said last week, “the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded.”

That means Mr. Rove, who testified four times before a grand jury investigating the leak and was interviewed by the FBI, is no longer missing White House meetings. On Wednesday, he was seen by The Times heading into the Oval Office with other senior staffers, including White House Counsel Harriet Miers, for a session with the president.

Although Mr. Rove has not been charged with any crime, that did not stop Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean from calling for his dismissal yesterday.

“We have someone on the taxpayers’ payroll with a security clearance who leaked the name of a CIA agent,” he said of Mr. Rove on CNN. “I think that is outrageous.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan suggested that Mr. Rove isn’t going anywhere.

“Karl Rove is the deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the president,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Bush flew to South America. “There is no discussion of staff changes, beyond the usual vacancies that occur.”

White House aides confirmed that Mr. Rove is back into his routine of regularly scheduled meetings with fellow senior officials, including Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Mr. Rove also is holding regular meetings with his own staff.

In addition, Mr. Rove is participating in White House conference calls aimed at selling the president’s nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. He has been meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration. He spent part of Wednesday calling lawmakers about spending issues.

“I saw him a couple days before the Libby indictment and you would think that if there were any time when he would be distracted, it would be then,” said David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “Yet there was no indication that he was not completely engaged.”

Despite the swirl of intrigue around Mr. Rove’s job status, there has been no indication of dissatisfaction from Mr. Bush. In that sense, Mr. Rove can overlook criticism from other quarters and concentrate on keeping his boss happy, Mr. Keene said.

A second senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Rove “occupies the same space that he always does.”

“The guy’s a force of nature.”

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