Where's Karl?

Where's Karl?
Illustration By Jason Stout

Since the return of the Bush papers to Austin, there have been quite a few media requests to review the documents, but there have been other searches, as well, some a bit bizarre. A special agent from an unidentified federal law enforcement agency in California asked for a list of every individual with whom George W. Bush went hunting during his six-year tenure as governor. That information was never recorded in the files, because it had nothing to do with W's official role as governor. Indeed, what's not included in an archival collection can be at least as interesting as what is.

A recent New Yorker profile of the president's special assistant, Karl Rove, noted the common D.C. presumption that Rove is responsible for everything that happens in the known political universe. Some Texans tend to think that way as well. Yet, to judge from the Bush gubernatorial papers, Rove barely exists. In the winter of 2001, when then-Attorney General John Cornyn's office was first deciding the fate of the Bush papers, Rove was cc'd as an interested party. Yet astonishingly (and suspiciously) thus far, after almost two more years of archival review, Rove's fingerprints are to be found literally nowhere on the papers themselves. Although Rove served George W. Bush during the governor's entire six-year tenure in Austin, not a single significant Karl Rove-generated document has yet been found in the Bush archives: not a letter, not a memo, not a position paper, not an e-mail.

Two possible explanations come to mind. Either someone scrubbed the archives before the two truckloads of documents were returned from College Station to state hands, or George W. Bush was extremely fastidiousness in separating the political/campaign side of his job from his role as governor -- as required by state law. (There's an interesting entry in one of the governor's daily calendars that could be used to defend the latter view. Toward the end of his time in the Governor's Mansion, Bush, speaking on a state telephone, was accidentally connected by an intern with Rove, presumably from his private office, since Rove was not a state employee. When the governor realized who was on the other end of the line, according to a secretary's entry in his calendar, he unceremoniously hung up on his political guru.)

It's certainly curious that the man often referred to as "Bush's Brain" makes his presence felt in Bush's gubernatorial archives only by his absence. Future biographers and historians can use that as an indicator: Whatever story the archives tell, it's not the whole story.

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