WASHINGTON (AP) - Karl Rove, President Bush's close friend and chief political strategist, plans to leave the White House at the end of August, joining a lengthening line of senior officials heading for the exits in the final 1 1/2 years of the administration.
On board with Bush since the beginning of his political career in Texas, Rove was nicknamed "the architect" and "boy genius" by the president for designing the strategy that twice won him the White House. Critics call Rove "Bush's brain."
A criminal investigation put Rove under scrutiny for months during the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name but he was never charged with any crime. In a more recent controversy, Rove, citing executive privilege, has refused to testify before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Bush was expected to make a statement Monday with Rove. Later Monday, Rove, his wife and their son were to accompany Bush on Air Force One when the president flies to Texas for his vacation.
"Obviously it's a big loss to us," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "He's a great colleague, a good friend, and a brilliant mind. He will be greatly missed, but we know he wouldn't be going if he wasn't sure this was the right time to be giving more to his family, his wife Darby and their son. He will continue to be one of the president's greatest friends."
Since Democrats won control of Congress in November, some top administration officials have announced their resignations. Among those who have left are White House counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Rob Portman, chief White House attorney Harriet Miers, political director Sara Taylor, deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch and Meghan O'Sullivan, another deputy national security adviser who worked on Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was forced out immediately after the election as the unpopular war in Iraq dragged on.
Rove became one of Washington's most influential figures during Bush's presidency. He is known as a ruthless political warrior who has an encyclopedic command of political minutiae and a wonkish love of policy. Rove met Bush in the early 1970s, when both men were in their 20s.
Once inside the White House, Rove grew into a right-hand man.
Rove is expected to write a book after he leaves. He disclosed his departure in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
He said he decided to leave after White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told senior aides that if they stayed past Labor Day they would be obliged to remain through the end of the president's term in January 2009.
"I just think it's time," Rove said in an interview at this home on Saturday. He first floated the idea of leaving to Bush a year ago, the newspaper said, and friends confirmed he'd been talking about it even earlier. However, he said he didn't want to depart right after the Democrats regained control of Congress and then got drawn into policy battles over the Iraq war and immigration.
"There's always something that can keep you here, and as much as I'd like to be here, I've got to do this for the sake of my family," said Rove, who has been in the White House since Bush took office in 2001.
Rove's son attends college in San Antonio and he said he and his wife plan to spend much of their time at their nearby home in Ingram.
Rove, currently the deputy White House chief of staff, has been the president's political guru for years and worked with Bush since he first ran for governor of Texas in 1993.
Even as he discussed his departure, Rove remained characteristically sunny. This quality of unrelenting optimism about the president, which matches Bush's own upbeat, never-admit-disappointment nature, has at times gotten Rove into trouble. Up to the end of the 2006 midterm elections, the political guru predicted a Republican win. That of course was not to be, and there was grumbling that Rove wasn't on his game during those elections as much as he had been before.
In the interview, Rove predicted Bush will regain his popularity, which has sunk to record lows because of the war in Iraq.
Rove also predicted conditions in Iraq would improve and that the Democrats would nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, calling her "a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate."
Rove testified before a federal grand jury in the investigation into the leak of the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA officer whose husband was a critic of the war in Iraq. That investigation led to the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on charges of lying and obstructing justice. Plame contends the White House was trying to discredit her husband.
Attorneys for Libby told jurors at the onset of his trial that Libby was the victim of a conspiracy to protect Rove. Details of any save-Rove conspiracy were promised but never materialized. The most explicit testimony on Rove came from columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame in a July 2003 column. He testified that Rove, a frequent source, was one of two officials who told him about Plame. Libby, with whom he seldom spoke, was not a source.
Rove, though, was not indicted after testifying five times before the grand jury, occasionally correcting misstatements he made in his earlier testimony.
The jury in Libby's trial did not hear that testimony, nor did it hear that Rove is credited as an architect of Republican political victories and has been accused by opponents of playing dirty tricks.
All that jurors heard is that Rove leaked Plame's identity and, from the outset, got political cover from the White House. He was never charged with a crime.