Robert Novak

If her testimony is a dud, that could embarrass Waxman. But he has many other weapons. Since assuming the chairmanship on Jan. 4, Waxman has acted as though he spent the last dozen years in the congressional minority contemplating how many investigations he could launch. His committee has aimed at the General Services Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, constraint of global warming scientists, the misrepresentations of Pat Tillman's death, private contractors in Iraq and the Plame leak, among others.

The Bush team has seemed confused and disorganized in the face of this fusillade. Warnings by Rep. Tom Davis, Waxman's Republican counterpart on the committee, fell on deaf ears at the White House. The president's agents appear uncertain about how much they should meet Waxman's demand for documents.

In such a climate, Rove last week telephoned Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois to dress him down for allegedly giving the news media an account of a private meeting at the White House in which Kirk and other moderate Republicans complained to the president about his Iraq war policy. "That's not the first time I got blamed for doing what Ray LaHood (a garrulous fellow Illinois Republican House member) did," Kirk told a colleague.

No matter who was responsible for the leak, Rove's scolding of Kirk was not well received in the House Republican cloakroom. Kirk, a former State Department official and U.S. Naval Reserve aviator, is widely popular in the Republican conference. With Waxman hot on his trail and hounding his former assistant, Rove could use enthusiastic support from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Many of these congressmen believe that Rove should have quit when he was ahead as manager of the two Bush elections and left in January 2005. However, they do not want to see him limp out of Washington with his scalp hanging on Henry Waxman's belt. "We're not hostile to the administration," one prominent conservative House member, who did not want his name used, told me. "We just want it to be over."

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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