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Inspector general absolves Bush adviser


Published March 14, 2004

Staff and wire reports

Federal decisions in the Klamath Basin are driven by science, not politics, and Karl Rove, President Bush's political guru, did not manipulate things in favor of irrigators, an internal administration investigation has concluded.

The U.S. Interior Department's inspector general dismissed concerns from Sen. John Kerry, now the Democrats' likely presidential candidate.

"We determined that the administrative process followed in this matter did not deviate from the norm," Inspector General Earl E. Devany wrote in a letter dated March 1, but released late Friday.

The White House called the letter a vindication of its water management in the Basin.

"While there is always going to be political sniping in this world, it doesn't change the fact that the Department of Interior bases its decision on the best available science and will continue to do so," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius.

In a press release from his Senate office, Kerry said he accepts the inspector general's findings, but still questions why a political operative was briefing senior Interior officials about resource issues.

"There are too many examples in this administration of politics trumping science not to be concerned," the statement said.

Bob Gasser, owner of Basin Fertilizer and Chemicals, said it should be okay for the groups involved with the issue to meet with their elected officials. Gasser, who recently got back from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he met with federal officials, said science drives the government's decisions in the Basin.

"Politics can't give an answer to a science problem," he said.

While the inspector general confirmed that Rove made "a passing reference" to the Klamath issue during a presentation to senior Interior officials, "we found nothing to tie Karl Rove's comments or presentation to the Klamath decision-making process," Devany wrote.

In its report, the Wall Street Journal said that Rove, a top political aide for President Bush, came to Oregon in January 2002 to meet with U.S. Department of Interior officials. The Interior Department is the parent agency for the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries.

Rove was in Portland Thursday for a Republican Party fundraiser, where he spent an hour in a closed-door session with about 20 people who paid $5,000 each to have their picture taken with him and later gave a speech to a crowd of 200 who paid $50 for dinner.

Oregon is one of a dozen battleground states that both sides are targeting for the November election.

Interior Press Secretary Mark Pfeifle, said the inspector general's letter shows the department followed the law in the Basin.

He said Kerry's calling for a probe was a political move. "We're getting into the silly season of politics, when outrageous charges will be made by politicians and special interest fundraising groups," he said.

As a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Kerry called for the an inspector general investigation of the into Interior Departments' management of Basin water last August. The request came about a week after a Wall Street Journal article painted of a picture of Rove directing department managers to make decisions based on politics.

Kerry's concerns and the Wall Street Journal Article made the Klamath matter "ripe" for an investigation by the inspector general, Devany wrote in the letter.

Devany wrote that Inspector General officials interviewed all of the "key individuals - some of them several times - who were involved" with the Klamath Reclamation Project. The officials also combed through hundreds of documents produced by the federal government about the project as well as documents filed by parties in simmering lawsuits about the Project's operations.

The investigation showed that water in the Basin is a fiercely contentious issue - pitting tribes, irrigators, fishermen, environmentalists and even opposing federal officials against each other in the want for water according to the letter.

"Unfortunately, when the competing interests are mutually exclusive of one another - as in the Klamath matter - accommodation becomes impracticable," Devany wrote.

Susan Holmes, a spokeswoman for Earthjustice, an environmental group that advised Kerry on the Klamath inquiry, said it was "unimaginable" that politics did not play a role in decisions in the Basin.

According to the inspector general's letter, the most likely indicators of political influences swaying decisions would be testimony by on-the-ground workers.

"... we found no evidence of political influence affecting the decisions pertaining to the water in the Klamath Project," Devany wrote "The individuals at the working-levels denied feeling pressured at all





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