Rove, Smith Sold Salmon for Votes
in the news
Recent investigations into the Department of Justice have shed light into the way the White House manipulates federal agencies for partisan gain. Now, a story by Jason Leopold, writing in Truthout, suggests that the White House used the Department of Interior to manipulate data about the Klamath River to support Gordon Smith in his 2002 re-election bid, possibly in violation of federal law.
Leopold picks up the narrative with a meeting Karl Rove had with Interior Department managers wherein he tried to strong-arm them into diverting Klamath River water to farms--so that Smith's rural base wouldn't wander.
The way to get Smith reelected to another term, Rove reportedly told the Interior Department officials, would come via the agency's support of a highly controversial measure: diverting water from the Klamath River Basin to farms in the area that were experiencing unusually dry conditions, thereby supporting the GOP's agricultural base.
From there, Rove set up a cabinet-level task force to give the illusion that the administration was seriously considering the question, while behind the scenes, Rove tried to bully scientists into giving him political cover for a decision that had already been made.
[National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Michael] Kelly spoke out publicly in 2003 alleging that he was subjected to political pressure and ordered to ignore scientific evidence that said the plan would likely kill off tens of thousands of Coho salmon, and to support the Klamath River low-water plan Rove wanted enacted to help farmers, who Rove saw as a crucial part of the Republican constituency in the state.
Not only did Rove and the administration undermine the function of federal agencies, they may have committed a crime.
[Rove's former executive assistant Susan] Ralston said [in a deposition] that officials in Rove's shop, the Office of Political Affairs, would regularly brief political appointees at federal agencies about "target states" Republicans needed to focus heavily on to win an election, and efforts cabinet officials needed to take with regard to policy to ensure Republicans were reelected....
If Rove and other White House officials discussed campaign strategy at federal office buildings, that would appear to be a violation of the Hatch Act.
Of course, the rest of the story is well known to Oregonians.
In March 2002, in a sudden reversal of a long standing policy, then Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Senator Smith held a joint press conference in Klamath Falls and opened up the irrigation system releasing thousands of gallons of water to 220,000 acres of farmland. The policy shift left the Klamath River basin with unusually low river flows that summer and ended up killing more than 30,000 endangered Coho salmon - the largest fish kill in the history of the West. But the move, as orchestrated by Rove, ended up getting Smith reelected that November.
A year later, a federal judge issued a ruling saying the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing water to be diverted to farmers from Klamath River.