Rove's spokesman bashes Bush's attorney general

Love him or hate him, Mark Corallo is taking a stand.

By Michael Scherer

Published June 1, 2006 5:39PM (EDT)

There are a lot of reasons for people to dislike Mark Corallo, the GOP flack extraordinaire who is now working as Karl Rove's spokesman. He is, to begin with, a political spokesman, which means his job is often to spin the truth right up to the point where it is no longer true. He also has a reputation as an avid partisan, having worked for House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston during the Clinton impeachment, in Florida during the 2000 recount and in the Justice Department with John Ashcroft. He now serves by Rove's side during the CIA leak investigation.

But Corallo is also one of a kind. In conversations with reporters, he is far more excitable, sarcastic and blunt than one would expect. He loves schmoozing, he often shares actual information, and he shuns the Washington uniform for particularly well-cut suits. (In the interest of self-preservation, I will avoid commenting on the Jason Leopold-Corallo smackdown, which remains somewhat unresolved.)

I bring this up today because Corallo appeared in a court filing yesterday, defending the rights of reporters against the exceptional tactics of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This is surprising on many levels. As I mentioned, Corallo worked as the chief spokesman for Ashcroft. He now works for one of the most powerful men in the White House. So what the hell is he doing?

The case concerns two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, who obtained grand jury materials from the inquiry into steroid use by baseball players like Barry Bonds. Bucking long-standing Justice Department tradition, Gonzales has decided to go after reporters' sources even though there is no national security issue, or any threat to life and limb, at stake. "This is the most reckless abuse of power I have seen in years," Corallo told the New York Times, explaining his decision to submit an affidavit in support of the reporters. Then Corallo took a direct swipe at Gonzales et al.: "They really should be ashamed of themselves."

Did Rove know he was going to do this? "This is separate from anything I do with my clients," Corallo said, when I called him this afternoon, adding that his clients did not know about the filing. "This has to do with the principle that the press does have rights."

I asked if he was getting any blow-back from his former colleagues at Justice. "I hazard to guess that I have been dropped from the DoJ Christmas party list," he shot back. That sounded about right to me.

Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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