Republican leaders issue talking points on Rove


WASHINGTON - The White House won't talk about Karl Rove. But as the furor over President Bush's chief political strategist continues, Republican leaders have found other ways to get their points across.

For the second consecutive day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to answer questions about Rove's possible role in disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA operative, saying yesterday - as he had the day before - that any comments might damage a continuing criminal investigation into the matter.

"I want to be helpful to the investigation. I don't want to jeopardize anything in that investigation," McClellan said during another contentious briefing as reporters bombarded him with questions about the White House deputy chief of staff.

Yet, at the same time, the Republican National Committee - closely allied with the White House and led by Rove protege Ken Mehlman - distributed a 3 1/2 -page set of talking points defending the president's chief political strategist and attacking Democrats and the CIA operative's husband, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"The RNC is trying to get the attention off the White House," said David Gergen, a Harvard University professor who has worked for presidents of both parties. "A week ago, this was all about the press. Now it's back to the White House, which is not what they want."

McClellan refused to square the latest disclosures about Rove's involvement with his previous assertions in September and October 2003 that Rove was not involved in leaking Valerie Plame's identity to news media. "The president knows that Karl Rove wasn't involved," McClellan said at the time.

But now, McClellan says it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the matter because of the continuing investigation.

However, Republican officials had no such reservations. The RNC talking points, distributed to Republicans across the country, provided a detailed, point-by-point defense of Rove's role in the case, saying that he only discussed the situation with reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine to prevent him from writing something inaccurate.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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