But the U.S. House Judiciary Committee released documents and testimony yesterday showing that Rove did keep up with Alabama politics--including the legal difficulties of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.
Rove even received an "Alabama News Alert" from a White House staffer, trumpeting the Siegelman conviction before it had appeared on evening newscasts.
Elliott Mincberg, chief counsel for oversight and investigations at the House Judiciary Committee, interrogated Rove about the Siegelman case.
Mincberg produced at least four documents that revealed Rove's keen interest in Alabama while serving in the Bush White House. The documents were roughly from 2000 to 2005:
Document No. 1: E-mail from Rove to Susan Ralston and Matt Schlapp
Rove sent an e-mail to Susan Ralston, one of his chief deputies, and Matt Schlapp, director of the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA), attaching a copy of the April 12, 2004, Southern Political Report.
Mincberg reads a key passage from the article:
Q . . . It says, and I quote, With Governor Bob Riley having low approval ratings following his major defeat last year on a tax restructuring proposal, lots of Democrats are sending signals they might run for Governor in 2 years. Ex-Governor, Don Siegelman, who barely lost to Riley in 2002, has made no secret of his ambition to serve as Governor again, end quote.
Rove says he doesn't recall seeing the article, but Mincberg follows:
Q But in any event, it certainly stands to reason that Siegelman would be weakened if he was charged with crimes, correct?
Document No. 2: E-mail from Rove to Barbara Jo Goergen
Rove sent an e-mail to Barbara Jo Goergen, his executive assistant, attaching an article about federal prosecutors in Birmingham dropping the first case against Siegelman. It referenced the possibility of a Siegelman-Bob Riley rematch for governor in 2006.
Mincberg directs Rove to a section in the article that says, "The other Democrat who might run is ex-Governor Don Siegelman." This exchange ensues:
Q And going down the page, it discusses the fact that he is a, quote, "superb politician despite being dogged by several ethical clouds." Do you see that reference?
A Yes. You ellipsed out "losing to challenger Riley in 2002 by a mere 48.9 to 49.1."
Q And I'm happy for you to add that. It goes on to say, "This year could be different. Federal prosecutors in Birmingham had to drop their case against Siegelman when the judge threw out the major charge against him." Do you see that reference?
Q Do you recall seeing this?
Q Do you agree that Siegelman would have been a serious contender in the 2006 race if his legal problems were resolved?
A Again, I'm not certain if he would or wouldn't be, because he faced a primary with a couple of -- at least one very ambitious and very popular official, and probably several.
Q On the other hand, if Siegelman were reindicted, that would have harmed him politically and made it more difficult for him to win the governorship?
A It generally creates problems, yes.
Q And, in fact, the article references the fact there is a Federal grand jury in Montgomery looking into his activities as Governor, correct?
Document No. 3: E-mail from Sarah Taylor to Karl Rove
Taylor, who replaced Matt Schlapp as director of OPA, sent an e-mail to Rove on February 10, 2005. The e-mail references Kelley McCullough "Kitty" Robertson, former Southeast political director for the Republican National Committee and a woman with strong ties to Alabama. Robertson apparently was trying to determine if Bob Riley intended to run for re-election as governor, even though his approval numbers were down following his failed attempt at tax reform. Here is the exchange:
Q Well, take a look, if you would, at Document 42 which is an e-mail from Sara Taylor to you on February 10, 2005. And Ms. Taylor says, quote, "We asked Kitty to do some digging, no word for sure, but sounds like probably Riley will run," end quote. Do you see that?
A Uh-huh. Yes.
Q And Kitty, I take it, refers to Kelley McCullough . . . ?
Q And she was at the RNC?
Q Does this refresh your recollection about any communications you had with Sara Taylor relating to Governor Riley's plans for reelection and the Alabama's Governor's race?
A No, I don't. I was asked to do a fund-raiser in 2006. This may have been provoked by that why was I going to go down there and what was I going to do?
Q In any event, Ms. Taylor did --
A Or '05. Excuse me.
Q '05, right. In any event, Ms. Taylor did send you an e-mail reporting that the result of the digging that was asked to be done was that it looked like Governor Riley probably would run for reelection?
A It is unclear whether I asked her to do that digging or not. She said, We asked Kitty to do that digging.
Q You just don't recall if that impulse came from OPA or from you?
Document No. 4: E-mail from Sarah Taylor to Karl Rove
When Siegelman was convicted in Montgomery in June 2006, Rove tells Mincberg that he learned about it from reading clips or watching the evening news.
But Taylor's e-mail has the heading "Alabama News Alert," dated June 29, 2006. That was the date of Siegelman's conviction. Taylor is forwarding information from Jason Huntsberry, an OPA regional director who covered Alabama. Here is the exchange:
Q And the e-mail reads, quote: Just spoke with Toby and word is that Former Governor Siegelman, paren, 10 counts, closed paren, and Richard Scrushy, paren, every account, closed paren, were just convicted. Details to follow. Is that correct?
Q Toby, again, would be Toby in Governor Riley's office?
A I assume that is Toby Roth, yes.
Q Do you recall getting this e-mail?
A I don't. But I'm sure I did. And I'm sure I looked at it. It is 5:52 p.m. is the sent time. So I could have conceivably seen it sometime that evening, at which time I may have seen it on the evening news as well.
Q But this would suggest that regardless of whether or not you saw it on the evening news, you also got an e-mail from Sara Taylor forwarding something that came from Governor Riley's chief of staff, saying that Governor Siegelman had been convicted, correct?