By Molly Ivins
AUSTIN, Texas—An interesting semi-historical footnote concerning Dick Cheney’s oft-reiterated references during the 2000 presidential campaign to President Clinton’s weaseling under oath. “He knows what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” says Cheney in his campaign stump speech to show the moral superiority of the Republican camp.
Which leads us to this story about Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign manager and the man they call “Bush’s brain.”
Rove, as all the world knows, has been a longtime Republican political operative in Texas prior to heading to Washington with Bush. During that time, Texas Democrats noticed a pattern that they eventually became somewhat paranoid about: In election years, there always seemed to be an FBI investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press.
After the election was over, the allegations often vanished, although in the case of Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, three of his aides were later convicted. The investigations were conducted by FBI agent Greg Rampton, who was stationed in Austin in those years.
In 1989, Rove was nominated for a position with the federal Board for International Broadcasting. He answered a questionnaire from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was later obtained by subpoena. One of the questions was: Have you been interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative or grand jury investigation in the past 18 months? If so, provide details.
Rove responded, “This summer I met with agent Greg Rampton of the Austin FBI office at his request regarding a probe of political corruption in the office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower.”
In 1991, Rove was undergoing state Senate confirmation hearings for an appointment to the East Texas State University board of regents. Sen. Bob Glasgow was questioning Rove about his work for Gov. Bill Clements in the 1986 campaign against Gov. Mark White.
A now-forgotten incident of that campaign involved a listening device allegedly found in Rove’s office by a private security firm a few days before a televised debate. The case made headlines around the state. It was investigated by Rampton, who never found the alleged perpetrator.
Glasgow: “Ah, Mr. Rove, would you now tell us publicly who bugged your office that you blamed upon Mark White publicly and the press statewide?”
Rove: “Ah, first of all, I did not blame it on Mark White. If, ah, if you’ll recall I specifically said at the time that we disclosed the bugging that we did not know who did it, but we knew who might benefit from it. And no, I do not know. ...”
Glasgow: “And are you now satisfied that Mark White and the Democratic Party did not bug your office as you—as you released, ah, to the newspapers?”
Rove: “Senator, I never said Mark White bugged my office, I’m not certain he has an electronic background. I never said the Democratic Party bugged it either. ... As to who bugged it, Senator, I do not know—and the FBI does not know. ...”
Glasgow: “How long have you known an FBI agent by the name of Greg (Rampton)?”
Rove: “Ah, Senator, it depends—would you define ‘know’ for me?”
Glasgow: “What is your relationship with him?”
Rove: “Ah, I know, I would not recognize Greg (Rampton) if he walked in the door. We have talked on the phone a var-—a number of times. Ah, and he has visited in my office once or twice, but we do not have a social or personal relationship whatsoever. ...”
Glasgow: “During the Rick Perry campaign (against Jim Hightower), did you have any conversations with FBI agent Rampton about the course and conduct of that campaign?”
Rove: “Yes, I did, two or three times. ...”
Glasgow: “Did you issue a press release in Washington, at a fund-raiser, about information you’d received from the FBI implicating—implicating, ah, Hightower?”
Rove: “We did not issue a press release. ... We did not issue a news release. I talked to a member of the press ...”
Glasgow: “I’m gonna let you expound on anything you want to. Ah, involved in campaigns that you’ve been involved in, do you know why agent Rampton conducted a criminal investigation of Garry Mauro at the time you were involved in that campaign, pulled the finance records of Bob Bullock at the time you were involved in that campaign, pulled the campaign records of Jim Hightower at the time you were involved in that campaign?”
Rove: “Well, Senator, first of all, as I said before, I was not involved in either Bob Bullock or Garry Mauro’s campaigns or the campaigns of their Republican opponent. I’d be hard pressed to tell you who Garry Mauro’s opponent was in 1986. Ah, and I’d—think I’d be hard pressed even to remember who Bob Bullock’s opponent was in 1986. So I can’t answer that part of the question. I do know that I became involved in Rick Perry’s campaign in November of 1989. At that point there was already an investigation ongoing of the Texas Department of Agriculture, prompted by stories which had appeared in August and September, I believe, in The Dallas Morning News regarding the use of Texas Department of Agriculture funds.”
Glasgow shifts to the Board for International Broadcasting appointment: “And in answering a question for that perspective (sic) federal appointment, did you make a claim in there that you were involved in the Hightower investigation at the request of special agent Rampton of the Federal Bureau of Investigation?”
Rove: “No, sir.”
Glasgow: “You did not make that statement in response ...”
Rove: “I did not, and I was ...”
Glasgow: “Let me finish my question. Did you make that statement in response to a written questionnaire?”
Rove: “Ah, Senator, ah, no, I did not make that statement, but I ...”
Glasgow: “Thank you very much.”
Rampton, who was subsequently involved with the FBI operation at Ruby Ridge, said that he had not talked to Rove about the Hightower case. Told that Rove had so claimed in his federal questionnaire, Rampton said:
“Let me think. I couldn’t recall talking to him on that particular case at all. My memory, if there was a conversation we had on that case, well, I can’t recall it. He was not an integral part of that case. I don’t even remember bouncing anything off him as somebody who was familiar with politics in Austin.”