There is one detail from today's Cheney piece that I was quite curious to see--the details on the decision to divert water from the Klamath River to farmers and ranchers. The article describes Cheney as the person who drove the issue, starting from at least April 2001.
In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.
Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.
First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.
Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.
Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.
This narrative bears importantly on Susan Ralston's deposition before Waxman's committee, which included a long discussion of Klamath.
The Committee staffer describes the dispute as starting in 2002, not in 2001.
Q In 2002, were you familiar with a dispute in Oregon over whether or not to divert water from the Klamath Rìver Basin to nearby farms?
A I recall that.
Given the way the question was asked, it prevents us from assessing whether--and how--Karl was involved in this process early on. Does Waxman's committee know this started in 2001?
Ralston does admit that the issue came up on multiple occasions during Rove's Directors' meetings.
A It would be the participants would have been Karl, myself , Israel Hernandez, each of the directors of the four offices that he managed, and sometimes those directors would bring a deputy, and this meeting was held in his office.
Q In Karl Rove's office?
A Correct. And we met almost every day.
Q For how long was the subject of the "Klamath River Basin water diversion" issue a topic of these directors' meetings?
A Oh, I can't say specifically, but it was definitely mentioned on multiple occasions.
In fact, though (at least as far as Ralston's sketchy memory will admit), the discussions consisted more of Barry Jackson reporting back on policymaking concerning the River basin.
A You know, I would have to look at what the issue was, but I think some of the discussions involved Barry
Jackson's reporting on what was going on, what was going on policywise in terms of discussions inside the building.
Q What do you mean by that?
A Well, there was a policy process in the White House that, on some key issues, Karl deferred to Barry his deputy on policy to kind of run and manage. So if there were policy meetings with policy people, leg people, intergovernmental, anybody who was involved in the policy process, then Barry might have been reporting to Karl about what those discussions were about.
This may suggest Jackson was liaising with OVP on this issue, not driving it.
The big issue, for Waxman's committee, appears to be a PowerPoint (another one!) that Rove used to raise funds based on the Administration's decisions in Klamath.
Q Were you aware that in early January 2002, Karl Rove gave a PowerPoint presentation, that he used to solicit Republican donors, to 50 Department of Interior managers at a Department retreat in Shepherdstown, West Virgìnia?
A You know, I don't remember that one specifically, but he gave those kinds of presentations. I wouldn't doubt it.
Q Do you recall his discussion with you that he was going to gìve a presentation related to the Klamath River issue at a retreat?
A I don't have a specific recollection. He may have, but I don't have a specific recollection.
Q Were you aware that Mr. Rove traveled to Klamath River in late January and early February 2002 and spoke to the farmers there?
Ralston doesn't recall, but the WaPo provides a few details on the trip.
It was Norton who announced the review, and it was Bush and his political adviser Karl Rove who traveled to Oregon in February 2002 to assure farmers that they had the administration's support.
Note, this was before the Administration had the National Academy of Sciences review that would reverse the opinions of the biologists who had (correctly, it ultimately turned out) predicted that diverting the water would devastate the fish population. Ironically (given that he remains one of the most endangered Republican Senators), Rove's focus appears to have largely concerned Gordon Smith.
So it seems from this description that Rove's participation came after Cheney had done the preliminary work to support diverting the water. But there are two details in Ralston's testimony that raise some questions. First, the detail (that Ralston "doesn't recall") that Rove had a Cabinet-level task force on Klamath issues.
Q Were you aware that Mr. Rove put together a Cabinet-Level task force on Klamath River issues?
A He may have, but I don't remember.
Q You were not involved in that?
A It sort of sounds vaguely familiar, but I just don't remember the details.
There's no mention of that Cabinet-Level task force in the WaPo piece. When did it start? What did it do?
Similarly, Ralston doesn't remember that DOI's IG investigated this decision.
Q Were you aware that the Interior Department's inspector general investigated the White House's involvement in the Interìor Department's decision about Klamath River water levels?
A I do not remember that.
Here's why Waxman's Committee is interested. DOI's IG reported:
In conducting our investigation, we interviewed all of the key individuals – some of them several times – who were involved with the Klamath River Basin Project. These individuals represent all aspects of involvement in the Klamath Project – from staff-level employees of the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) to the highest-level decision makers within the Department; the independent scientists charged with reviewing competing reports and information; and the government scientist who filed for Whistleblower protection with the Office of Special Counsel.
Note, however, no mention of interviewing Rove or Cheney, or even Barry Jackson, who appears to have been involved. The IG conclusions are more important for the question of Cheney's and Rove's involvement.
We determined that the administrative process followed in this matter did not deviate from the norm. Our review of the available documents and the rulings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California support the conclusion that the Department had compiled the necessary information to support its various decisions related to the Klamath Project.
None of the individuals we interviewed – including the Whistleblower – was able to provide any competent evidence that the Department utilized suspect scientific data or suppressed information that was contained in economic and scientific reports related to the Klamath Project. To the contrary, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in its Final Report, issued October 2003, specifically disagrees with the criticism that had been directed against the Federal agencies for using “junk science”. This position is bolstered by the findings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which concluded that in light of the conflicting state of scientific evidence, the decisions were based on the best available science at the time.
Finally, we found no evidence of political influence affecting the decisions pertaining to the water in the Klamath Project. The individuals at the working-levels denied feeling pressured at all. Based on our experience in past OIG investigations, these would have been the most likely sources to provide evidence of such influence. Higher-level decision makers, both political and career, also denied feeling any political pressure to render a decision one way or another. Collectively, these decision makers described a process of thorough and thoughtful consideration of all the competing interests and requirements, although frustrated by the fact that certain interests and requirements were mutually exclusive. The consistent denial of political influence by government officials was corroborated by the view of the outside scientists and one former DOI official, all of whom denied feeling any pressure – political or otherwise.
While we confirmed a passing reference to the Klamath River Basin Project during an otherwise-unrelated presentation to senior Interior officials, we found nothing to tie Karl Rove’s comments or presentation to the Klamath decision-making process. The former DOI official, who had spoken to the Wall Street Journal about Rove’s presentation, clarified to our investigators that his use of the term “chilling effect” was not related to the Klamath Project. Of the multiple DOI officials we interviewed who attended the presentation, only one person specifically recalled the context in which Rove mentioned Klamath. This official recalled that Rove merely cited Klamath as an example of the complex problems the Department had to deal with. [my emphasis]
In other words, the DOI did an investigation of this process, apparently didn't question the folks like Barry Jackson and Dick Cheney who appear to have been involved, and concluded this was all normal.
I'm guessing Waxman's committee is interested because this is an example of a prior PowerPoint where Rove appears to have used department resources for political gain, similar to the famous GSA PowerPoint earlier this year. But I'm just as interested whether--by revising the scope of this back to Cheney's early involvement, the IG might come to a different conclusion about the political influence behind this decision.