Karl Rove’s help for Sweden as it and the Obama administration investigate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be the latest example of the adage, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
As sex and spy probes move forward, word is getting out about how Rove, the former Bush White House strategist, has advised Swedish Prime Minister Fredric Reinfeldt for the past two years.
“This all has Karl’s signature,” a reliable political source told me last month in encouraging our Justice Integrity Project to investigate Rove’s Swedish connections as an important factor in the WikiLeaks probes. “He [Rove] must be very happy. He’s right back in the middle of it. He’s making himself valuable to his new friends, seeing the U.S. government doing just what he’d like ─ and screwing his opponents big-time.”
The possibility that the Republican Rove might have hidden influence in Swedish and the United States law enforcement is inherently hard to prove because of the secrecy of proceedings. So, I refrained until now from writing about it for Connecticut Watchdog, especially because Rove himself has so far failed to respond to my invitation to comment. Instead, I recently published the relevant information as a political opinion column on the Huffington Post.
But the consumer stakes of potential WikiLeaks prosecutions are too important not to mention to this audience. In fact, underlying relationships between key figures in politics, law enforcement and the news media hold significant dangers for the public in restricting Net and web-based communications even if no improper action by Rove is ever established.
That’s particularly true if authorities use national security rationales to curtail Net access, as in the unprecedented and successful pressure by the U.S. government for Amazon.com, PayPal and others to cut off their services to WikiLeaks. Similarly, the Air Force forbade any of its employees from reading any part of the New York Times because it published redacted versions of some of the secret cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
So, we recap today scuttlebutt about the WikiLeaks probes and potential implications for U.S. consumers. We’ll touch also on why even such a partisan figure as Rove retains clout among security-conscious Democrats along with his base of Republicans as well as overseas supporters.
Rove himself says on his Karl Rove and Company website that he has been advising Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. It’s well-known in Sweden how Rove has helped Reinfeldt lead the nation’s Moderate Party to election success over liberal competitors who previously dominated the nation’s leadership.
Swedish political blogger Martin Moberg reported Nov. 5, for example, that Rove was visiting Sweden for unknown purposes. But Moberg warned his readers, according to a translation by Google’s automatic toolbar, that their country has “been spared the vulgar way” political campaigns are conducted in the U.S. “but the question is for how long?”
Going further, the Swedish web-tabloid daily News 24 published on Dec. 26 an article, “Karl Rove helps Reinfeldt to manage Julian Assange.” News 24, which says it’s the ninth best-read online news site in Sweden, cited as evidence my Huffington Post column and a similar blog by Alabama-based legal commentator Roger Shuler. News 24’s Swedish readers helped flesh out the story in their comments. Shuler today wrote on his Legal Schnauzer blog, Daily Kos and elsewhere, “The Rove/Assange Story Hits the International Press in Sweden.” Shuler provided a translation of the Swedish story and links to other materials.
More generally, let’s summarize the high stakes involved: Any U.S. prosecutions of WikiLeaks, if successful, might criminalize many kinds of investigative news reporting about government, not just the WikiLeaks disclosures that are embarrassing Sweden along with the Bush and Obama administrations. The disclosures are prompting authorities in both countries to demonize Assange for alleged sex and spy crimes even though neither country has filed a criminal indictment. Nonetheless, Sweden initiated a rare Interpol manhunt that prompted Assange’s arrest in the United Kingdom for potential extradition to Sweden.
Fallout could include new legal restraints on journalists and readers alike. Even if authorities create spy law exceptions for traditional broadcasters and newspapers, the public stands to lose big if the government can use the WikiLeaks reports as an excuse to restrict other communicators, thereby enhancing the power of embattled press lords who fear the new media.
But government and media decision-makers alike would be hurt if the public suspects political prosecutions and restraints on fair news coverage. That’s already happening, as indicated by reader comments from both sides of the Atlantic on the columns that have reported on the WikiLeaks probes.
Rove’s potential role is particularly divisive, as indicated by reader comments on sites discussing his Swedish work in recent days.
Many Americans look on him as a respected strategist who is unfairly maligned by liberals. Thus, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and other mainstream outlets regularly feature Rove because of his expertise, and he rarely faces any sustained criticism in friendly establishment circles. This was illustrated by his famous “Rapping Rove” dance routine at the annual Radio and TV White House Correspondent’s black-tie gala in March 2007 at the height of the U.S. attorney firing scandal. It’s here, enshrined on video as an illustration of how much the nation’s leading reporters enjoying hob-nobbing with their news sources.
But others recall that Rove was implicated in that unprecedented White House 2006 purge of nine U.S. attorneys to foster a cadre of what one Justice Department leader called “loyal Bushies” in the nation’s 93 regional U.S. attorney offices. These powerful Presidentially appointed Republicans who proved their loyalty pursued what critics call political prosecutions around the nation, primarily of Democratic candidates and donors.
Many of the victims are still imprisoned or otherwise financially ruined. My group has reported on Connecticut Watchdog and elsewhere how the Obama administration closed ranks with its predecessors to produce a whitewash investigation of the matter led by Connecticut federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, who was recently appointed deputy Connecticut attorney general. Dannehy and the Obama Justice Department focused largely on one attorney’s firing. They failed to interview victims of other prosecutors around the country retained as “loyal Bushies” and ultimately found no criminal wrongdoing by anyone.
WikiLeaks Embarrasses Sweden
In Sweden, WikiLeaks created a problem for that nation’s authorities by revealing a 2008 cable disclosing that its executive branch asked American officials to keep intelligence-gathering “informal” to avoid required Parliamentary scrutiny. That secret was among the 251,000 U.S. cables obtained by WikiLeaks and relayed to the New York Times and four other media partners. They have so far reported about 1,300 of the secret cables after trying for months to vet them through U.S. authorities.
Assange, a nomadic 39-year-old Australian, fell into the arms of two Swedish women who offered to put him up at their apartments on his speaking trip to Sweden last August. He has not been formally charged with a crime, only sought for further questioning about what happened during his two encounters.
After he responded to initial questions and left Sweden the country initiated a manhunt by Interpol that prompted him to turn himself in to British authorities. Now free on bond, he could be extradited from the United Kingdom to Sweden to answer further questions. Prosecutors have requested he be held without bail for questioning in a case with relatively minor liability under Swedish law. Critics say this is so rare that top-level Swedish authorities must be planning to extradite him to the United States on spy charges.
Sweden’s foreign minister has denied any such discussions with his U.S. counterparts. But one curse (or blessing) of WikiLeaks disclosures of past such diplomatic discussions is proof-positive that diplomats routinely lie about such matters. That’s their job, like it or not.
The New York Times reports that the Obama Justice Department is devising espionage conspiracy charges under an innovative use of spy law to force Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, now being held in solitary confinement with sensory deprivation pre-trial, to break down and testify against Assange. Attacks on WikiLeaks come from all sides of United States leadership, including by congressional Homeland Security leaders: Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent, and New York Republican Rep. Peter King.
Shuler, a pioneer in covering the federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, wrote about Rove’s Swedish work in his Dec. 14 column, “Is Karl Rove Driving the Effort to Prosecute Julian Assange?”
Those of us investigating such complex matters build upon one another’s work. In an Atlantic article entitled, “Karl Rove in a Corner,” writer Joshua Green wrote in 2004, “Anyone who takes an honest look at his history will come away awed by Rove’s power, when challenged, to draw on an animal ferocity that far exceeds the chest-thumping bravado common to professional political operatives.”
Shuler is an expert on how Rove-era prosecutors imprisoned Siegelman, his state’s leading Democrat, on trumped-up corruption charges. The Justice Department prosecution has become the most notorious U.S. political prosecution of the decade, and an international human rights disgrace fostered by the Obama administration in bipartisan fashion. But the prosecution had the benefit to Republicans of altering that state’s politics and improving business opportunities for companies well-connected to Bush, Rove and their state GOP supporters.
Given the secrecy imposed by authorities, it takes years for outsiders to unravel the inside secrets of prosecutions. So, it’s not surprise that the specifics of any such efforts by Rove in Sweden might remain in doubt. Was Rove providing routine political advice for Reinfeldt’s successful re-election in September? Was it fund-raising help to the former president the European Council based on Rove’s experience using last year’s Supreme Court Citizens United ruling to create the American Crossroads political money machine that helped destroy Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections? Perhaps Rove provided media advice, based on his work with Murdoch-owned Fox News and the Wall Street Journal and many other traditional broadcasting and print outlets.
Or has Rove drawn on any of his opposition research and dirty tricks skills that have earned him such nicknames as “Turd-Blossom?” from Bush and “Bush’s Brain” from others?
Siegelman’s convictions came only after years of pretrial smears by prosecutors, witness sexual blackmail, and a bizarre trial before a judge enriched on the side by Bush contracts for his closely-held company. All of the wrongdoing was covered up by years of whitewashes by the Obama administration and congress. Siegelman, 64, maintains that his prosecution was orchestrated by Karl Rove and his friend Bill Canary, whose wife Leura led the Alabama U.S. attorney office that prosecuted Siegelman using a host of controversial methods. Remarkably, she still runs the office more than two years after Obama’s election, much to the horror of Siegelman’s supporters nationwide.
One way to learn about the specifics is to ask Rove himself. I did so via his chief of staff on Dec. 14, attaching the Shuler column for convenience. Rove has not yet responded to my inquiry. His memoir “Courage and Consequence” published this year contains no mention either of Sweden or his client Reinfeldt. Rove’s book also denies that he was forced from the White House over the firing scandal and denies any improper role in the Siegelman case.
Whether or not Rove advised Sweden on how to go after Assange, the WikiLeaks revelations bring into plain view dramatic developments on both sides of the Atlantic.
Feminist scholar, rape victim and longtime volunteer rape counselor Naomi Wolf, for example, describes the Swedish sex assault investigation as “theater” designed to bring Assange into U.S. custody on more serious charges, not enforce the law in routine fashion. “How do I know that Interpol, Britain and Sweden’s treatment of Julian Assange is a form of theater?” she wrote. “Because I know what happens in rape accusations against men that don’t involve the embarrassing of powerful governments.”
Traditional news organizations are more reliant on authorities. Thus, a New York Times report Dec. 18 implies a more straightforward investigation via leak of a 68-page confidential Swedish police report. Earlier, more context was reported in a Daily Mail article and a Crikey blog.
Regarding espionage allegations, several commentators have made statements contrary to typical party affiliations:
• U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican and tea party hero, spoke on the House floor defending the right of WikiLeaks to cooperate with conventional news organization to publish secret cables.
• Democrat Bob Beckel (Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign manager) said about Assange on Fox: ‘A dead man can’t leak stuff … there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.”
• Former CIA agent Ray McGovern rebuked CNN anchor Don Lemon for disparaging WikiLeaks as “pariah,” and urged Lemon and his network to emulate Assange by reporting more such news.
In varying ways, Arianna Huffington, Robert Parry and Scott Horton argue compellingly that spy conspiracy charges endanger all investigative reporting on national security issues, not simply WikiLeaks.
What’s really going on? For our next report, we’ll look at cozy connections between prominent diplomatic, law enforcement and media opinion-leaders who traditionally provide whatever the public knows about how government works.
A fascinating example is Sweden’s former Justice Minister Thomas Bodstrom, a best-selling spy novelist and former soccer star and political party leader who recently moved to the United States. He moved after beginning legal representation last August with his law partner of Assange’s accusers. Bodstrom is currently writing another spy novel. But his own recent, real-life activities surely rival anything he could concoct.
Another interesting figure is Roland Poirier Martinsson, a Swedish think tank leader and longtime Rove ally who has taken a lead in both Sweden and the United States in assailing WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks “is supported by all sorts of hare-brained characters,” Martinsson wrote last month in the prominent Swedish daily SvD. “It is a humiliating charade.”
Like Sweden’s prime minister, Martinsson has worked with Rove for years to help reorient Sweden’s politics to fight threats of terror and foster free-market democracies. In fairness, vigorous defenders of the status quo in government and the media abound in both nations. They say that Sweden’s sex misconduct investigation of Assange and the United States spy probe of WikiLeaks have nothing to do with each other, or with each nation’s due process and press freedom rights.
We’ll see. Is it a coincidence that these unusual investigations occur just when WikiLeaks and similar web-based reporting enable the public to read about candid and secret descriptions by government officials about major issues?
In the meantime, many powerful figures are seemingly in bed together — and warning that we must keep secrets and prosecute offenders in new ways. “Rape! Rape!” they seem to shout. “Terror! Terror!” They’re certainly getting the world’s attention. But hopefully this is in-depth attention by those with a passion for justice.
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