We're not inclined to read much into the supposed change in Karl Rove's job at the White House. The Washington Post says that while Rove will retain his title of deputy chief of staff, he will "drop his portfolio as policy coordinator" and "once again" focus exclusively on politics. By our way of thinking, that's just a reflection of reality. Bush's approval ratings and tense relations with Congress mean there's not much of a policy agenda worth directing, and did anyone really think that Rove would spend 2006 focused on anything other than politics anyway?
But John Podesta, the former chief of staff for Bill Clinton and current head of the Center for American Progress, speculates that something else may be going on here. In a post at Think Progress, Podesta wonders if Rove has finally lost his security clearance -- and thus his ability to work on policy issues that pertain to national security -- as a result of his role in the outing of Valerie Plame.
As Podesta notes, an executive order Clinton signed in 1995 requires the prompt revocation of security clearances belonging to anyone who knowingly, willfully or negligently engages in action that "could reasonably be expected to result in an unauthorized disclosure of classified information." By leaking Plame's identity to reporters, Rove committed just such a violation. Yet as of November, at least, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that Rove still had his security clearance. As Jonathan Alter wrote at the time, "Having his security clearance yanked would not require Rove to resign as deputy chief of staff to President Bush. But it would prevent him from taking part in policymaking that relates to national-security issues, which would mean a much-reduced role in the Bush White House."
So is that what's happening now? Podesta raises the question, and with it this corollary: Even if Rove's security clearance hasn't been revoked as a result of the Plame case, shouldn't it be withdrawn now? If, as Rove says, he's going to make the war on terror a central campaign issue this year, is it really appropriate for him to have a security clearance that will help him do so?
Here's another, more obvious, question to ponder: If Rove is really going to spend the next seven months concentrating on partisan politics, why, exactly, should American taxpayers be footing the bill?
Update: At today's White House press gaggle, Scott McClellan was asked if Rove will be keeping his security clearance. His response: "Oh, absolutely, yes."