WASHINGTON — Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind President Bush’s races for the White House and an adviser with unparalleled influence over the past six turbulent years, announced his resignation Monday, ending a partnership stretching back more than three decades.
It was a major loss for Bush as he heads into the twilight of his presidency, battered in the polls, facing a hostile Democratic Congress and waging an unpopular war. A half dozen other senior advisers have left in recent months, forcing the White House to rebuild its staff at the same time the president is running out of influence.
“I’ll be on the road behind you here in a little bit,” said a rueful Bush, announcing the departure alongside Rove on the White House South Lawn. Bush leaves office Jan. 20, 2009.
Bush nicknamed Rove “the architect” and “boy genius” for successfully plotting two national election strategies and helping strengthen Republican majorities in Congress in 2002 and 2004.
Critics derisively called him “Bush’s brain.” During Bush’s presidency, he has been one of Washington’s most powerful and controversial figures.
The president appeared glum as he joined Rove for the announcement. “Karl Rove is moving on down the road,” Bush said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and we’re still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend.”
Rove, his voice shaking with emotion, told Bush, “I’m grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime.”
He said it had been more than 14 years since he helped Bush run for governor of Texas and 10 years since they began plotting the first race for the White House. Rove said it was time to “start thinking about the next chapter in our family’s life.”
After a lengthy hug from Bush and then Laura Bush, Rove joined them on the president’s helicopter. Rove, his wife and their son flew with Bush on Air Force One to Texas, where the president began his August vacation.
Rove has been no stranger to controversy in Washington. He came under scrutiny in a criminal investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s name. He testified five times before a federal grand jury, occasionally correcting misstatements he made in his earlier testimony, but he was never charged with any crime.
The trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby on charges of lying and obstructing justice established that Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the name of the CIA officer, Valerie Plame.
In a more recent controversy, Rove refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys, citing executive privilege.
In a telephone interview from the plane, Rove said his departure should not be taken as a sign of decline in Bush’s presidency.
“Look, he’s a very competitive guy,” Rove said of Bush. “None of us is indispensable or unreplaceable except (Bush) and Dick Cheney, and they ain’t going anywhere. And he will use every lever at his command and use every power that he’s got as president — which is considerable.”
“I think it will be wishful thinking on the part of the president’s critics to think this means anything other than a staff change at the White House,” Rove said.